New study offers insight into earthquakes - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

New study offers insight into earthquakes

New technology is helping geologists in their study of the New Madrid seismic zone.  Seismologists want to know if the area is showing signs of increased activity, and if that's a sign of more jolting things to come.

A new study helps explain why the Hernando-DeSoto Bridge is undergoing a 170-million dollar reinforcement plan, and why there's still a lot of preparation to do.

University of Memphis Geologist Robert Smalley, the author of the new study, says the New Madrid Fault Line has shifted a half-inch in the past five years.

"When you look at those sites, those sites are moving together," he said, adding the dense ground of the Mid-South hazard zone brings higher risks.

"We'll feel strong shaking over a larger area here than in California."

A magnitude six quake in mid-town Memphis would be felt in 15 states.  The same quack in California would only be felt in part of the state.


The study also confirms a big one could hit every 500 years.  The U.S. Geological Survey says there's a 7-10% chance it could hit in the next 50.

Geologist Gary Patterson says the key to surviving a catastrophic event is tougher building codes.

"Earthquakes don't harm people," Patterson said.  "It's the things that fall that harm people."

Geologists say the new findings give them firm ground to plan better.

Tennessee is easing into international building codes adopted this April.  Still, earthquake experts say the Mid-South still has a long way to go.

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