Earthquake Risk in the U.S.? It’s Not Just in California
Across the United States, only the District of Columbia, Florida, North Dakota and Wisconsin have escaped significant earthquakes in the past 30 years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
That means most of America’s 307 million residents could feel an earthquake, although probably nowhere near the magnitude of the one that struck Japan on March 11. Indeed, at least 39 states are considered at risk of moderate to major quakes, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). About 90 percent of Americans live in seismically active areas.
“Earthquakes are among the most frightening and devastating of natural events — they strike without warning, allowing no time for preparation or evacuation,” FEMA says.
FEMA has estimated that earthquakes cost the United States, on average, $5.3 billion a year in damage to buildings and infrastructure. California, Oregon and Washington account for more than three-fourths of that estimated annual loss.
The most recent U.S. quake happened March 4 in Arkansas, 37 miles north of the state capital of Little Rock, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). A “swarm” of quakes has rattled Arkansas this year, including a 4.7-magnitude shaker Feb. 28.
Arkansas doesn’t appear on the USGS list of the top 10 quake states, however.
Alaska is the No. 1 state for quakes, according to USGS. Alaska experiences a magnitude-7 earthquake almost every year and a magnitude-8 earthquake an average of every 14 years, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.
Alaska is followed by California. Although in second place for seismic activity behind Alaska, the Golden State “has the most damaging earthquakes because of its greater population and extensive infrastructure,” according to USGS.
In 2008, USGS put the probability of a major quake in the San Francisco region over the next 30 years at 63 percent. A 7.9-magnitude quake in that area would cause an estimated 5,800 deaths if it hit during the workday, according to the USGS forecast.Continued on the next page