There are small quakes along the New Madrid fault line practically every day. But, what would really happen if a monster quake would happen? Scientists have played out this hypothetical scenario and it likely would greatly affect us in the tri-state area.

The Homeland Security Enterprise (HSE) Geospatial Concept of Operations (GeoCONOPS) created a study called the New Madrid Earthquake Scenario. It's a "what if" of what would happen if a major 7.7 magnitude earthquake were to strike the fault line.

Here are some likely affects they expect within the first 3 days after a 7.7 New Madrid quake:

  • Over 2,000,000 would be needing shelter
  • Over 1,000,000 would be without water
  • Economic losses would approach $3 billion
  • Over 7,000,000 would be "at risk"

But, what specifically would be the danger and damage in the tri-state area? The biggest problem can be summed up in one word: Bridges

Here's how the scientists described the problem with bridges in the event of a 7.7 New Madrid quake:

The scenario earthquake damages over 3,500 highway bridges in the 140 counties in the NMSZ. Approximately 1,255 highway bridges will sustain complete damage.

For the bridges still standing, most if not all would not be useable for days as inspections would be needed before they'd open again. The fact that many of these bridges would be needed for rescue and recovery operations only complicates the possible problems.

As Britannica documents, the historic New Madrid quakes of 1811 and 1812 were as strong as a 7.7, so the precedent for monster quakes is there.

The USGS estimates there is a 7 to 10% chance we'll see a 7.5 to 8.0 quake on the New Madrid fault sometime in the next 50 years. That's enough of a chance to keep the what if scenarios in the back of your mind should we someday face this terrible reality.

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