Amid the outpouring of concern for disaster-ravaged Japan, experts claimed that many more areas of America are at risk from catastrophic earthquakes than most people realise.
Most Americans associate quakes with the West Coast, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.
But 39 out of the 50 states – including New York and Tennessee – have moderate to high seismic hazard risk.
The earthquake map of America: A seismic map shows that living far from the West Coast is no guarantee of safety from earthquakes. The colour-coordinated map shows a high probability of earthquakes along the West Coast – but it also shows an alarming patch of red at the ‘New Madrid fault line straddling Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky, in a dangerous patch that spreads outwards all the way to the South Carolina coast.
The ‘New Madrid’ fault line in the heart of the country is particularly dangerous and could affect more than 15 million people in eight states – Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.
The roughly one million people living in and around Memphis are said by the U.S. Geological Survey to be at the greatest risk of a major earthquake of 7.0 or 8.0 on the Richter scale.
The fault, running from St Louis to Memphis, was the site of some of the worst ever quakes to hit the U.S. The series of four tremblers in 1811 and 1812 were so powerful they reportedly caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards.
There was said to be damage as far afield as Washington DC and Charlotte, South Carolina.
According to a 2009 report by the U.S. Geological Survey, the southern states are unprepared to ride out a major earthquake, both in terms of planning and infrastructure.
There are also 15 nuclear power plants in the fault zone that are of similar design to those battling meltdowns in Japan.
‘Memphis has an ageing infrastructure, and many of its large buildings, including unreinforced schools and fire and police stations, would be particularly vulnerable when subjected to severe ground shaking,’ said the report.