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June 2012
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Quakes common along New Madrid

BY LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

The fact that residents along the New Madrid Seismic Zone have felt two minor earthquakes in less than a week may be unusual, but it doesn't necessarily mean a disaster is on the horizon.

An earthquake with a magnitude of 2.5 was recorded at 6:12 a.m. Friday in New Madrid County in southeast Missouri, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's web site. The event comes after  a 2.6 magnitude earthquake that rattled La Center on Sunday.

"There are several of these (small earthquakes) per year. Most of them go unnoticed by the general public," said George Kipphut, chairman of the Geosciences Department at Murray State University.

People don't usually feel earthquakes that register under 2.5 in magnitude, Kipphut said, and damage to buildings and other structures isn't likely until the magnitude meets or exceeds 4. The magnitude of the New Madrid earthquakes that occurred in 1811 and 1812 was close to 8, he added.

Kipphut said the public shouldn't take the miniquakes to mean a larger one will follow soon.

"There hasn't been a large earthquake (in the area) in 200 years. There almost certainly will be again sometime. We don't know when, though," Kipphut said. "The science of earthquake prediction is not very exact, and I'm not sure that it ever will be very exact."

Kipphut added that the U.S. Geological Survey estimates there's a 10 percent chance that a magnitude-8 quake could shake the area in the next 50 years.

He said that while the improving standards of construction have made buildings more earthquake-ready, individuals are limited in terms of how well-prepared they can be in case of a quake.

"One of the problems with earthquake readiness is that they happen so infrequently and come on so suddenly that a preparation plan is difficult to put together for an individual person," he said.

The USGS recommends preparing before an earthquake by identifying hazards and securing moveable items, creating a general disaster plan and deciding how to communicate during an emergency, and organizing disaster supplies. For more information on earthquake survival and recovery, visit www.earthquakecountry.org.

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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