Earthquakes in the breadbasket?


Earthquake zones are not just in coastal areas.

You probably know the Midwest as the breadbasket of the country, but do you know about its earthquake history? Should that concern you? If you live in the Midwest or the East, scientists and history suggest it should.


In the early 1800s, three of the most powerful earthquakes in U.S. history hit New Madrid, Missouri. The New Madrid fault area includes northeast Arkansas, southeast Missouri, western Tennessee, western Kentucky and southern Illinois. With the epicenter in Missouri, damage was reported as far away as South Carolina and Massachusetts.


According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the New Madrid area continues to produce small to moderate earthquakes and is the most seismically active area of the United States east of the Rockies. Based on the history of past earthquakes, USGS estimates a 25-40 percent chance of a magnitude 6 or larger earthquake in the New Madrid area within the next 50 years.


Most homeowner policies exclude earthquake coverage. So protect yourself now and speak with your agent about whether your homeowner policy automatically provides earthquake coverage for your home and your personal belongings. If not, ask whether you can purchase earthquake coverage, and what type of deductible may apply.

The time to know what your insurance provides for damages caused by earthquakes is before one hits.

Contact your local independent insurance agent for details.


For information about preparing for an earthquake, visit America’s PrepareAthon earthquake page.

For information about what to do after an earthquake, visit the Central United States Earthquake Consortium Page.

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35 Responses to “Earthquakes in the breadbasket?”

  1. Lauren

    It is important to be prepared for an earthquake at any time and know the risks wherever you live. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Pat

    If the New Madrid earthquake happened today, Chicago would be devastated. It wasn’t during the original quake only because it was a small town with low lying buildings at the time!!!

    • Paul

      Where is the data/research to back up this claim? Devastated is a strong word…

      • Jon W

        “Devastation” is used as hype. Just like the claims that the Pacific Northwest is overdue for a Cascadia Fault event. The “experts” recently said that major cities as far inland as the Willamette Valley would be “wiped out”, killing up to “16,000” people. But the cities in the region all combined, are over a half million people. If they wiped out the death toll will far exceed a mere 16,000.

      • pete0097

        If there was a large earthquake on the New Madrid fault and the Chicago area felt it, the buildings might not be designed for the accelerations so there would be a lot of damage, especially on the older high rise structures.

      • Gus

        USGA has published reports saying major damage could happen as far away as Nashville and Atlanta. It’s always been a concern.

        • Rick

          Nashville is roughly 125 miles cross country from New Madrid (heck, it only takes 3 hours to drive there and that’s over the river(s) and through the woods) to get there from ground zero. Atlanta is a bit farther, but not as far as Chicago.

          • joe moe

            Wrong as Chicago will suffer little, if any damage. St. Louis, MO will be the devastated.

          • Patrick Post

            The one issue that no one has mentioned is that the New Madrid Fault Zone sits next to the Mississippi River which runs through the middle of the of the High Plains Aquifer that covers eight states and provides agriculture water to tens of thousands of Mid-West farms and drinking water to 50 million people. The soft water saturated soil in this U.S. region is over 600 feet deep and will turn into jello from a 6.0 magnitude earthquake. This will cause extensive damage for 500 miles of distance from the epicenter. The soft soil will ripple with 10 foot swells similar to ocean waves. This is where the damage will come from which will be ten times greater than earthquakes occurring in hard bedrock. Newspaper articles written in 1811-12 about the four major earthquakes that occurred at New Madrid from December 1811 to February 1812 indicated witnesses to the event described the flat farmland turning into ten foot high ocean swells. You can imagine what that would do to the proposed Keystone Pipeline that was recently stopped by President Obama. A 6.0 earthquake would naturally completely destroy the pipeline and deposit one million barrels of crude oil into the soil, polluting the groundwater contained in the vital U.S. water supply of the High Plains Aquifer. The destruction cannot be overestimated to the Mid-West. The bad news is that this area is already crisscrossed with numerous oil and gas pipelines so extensive damage is a certainty regardless if the Keystone Pipeline is ever built in the future. Unfortunately many uninformed and misguided politicians are still determined to see happen.

          • Rick

            I disagree with the assertion that there will be that extensive damage that far from the NMSZ. I know all about it since I’ve studied it and grew up on it. The liquifaction will be pretty much limited to the Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, TN and Arkansas river valleys. The seismic P & S waves will be well attenuated before they get to NE, OK, TX. That pipeline I’m not worried about, but I am, like you, very concerned with the lines that crisscross ground zero between St. Louis and Memphis. It could only be worse if it happened during a high water flood event like 1983 and 2011. The levees might very well liquify and flood waters would inundate vast areas of the flood plains.

          • Pete0097

            Have you ever seen how they install this type of pipe? the hole is 10 feet deep and the welds are done on the surface and the pipe is dropped into the hole. During the process the pipe flexes more than 10 feet. Give it a break The old pipes may be a problem but not the new ones.

        • Pansy Blackwell

          Memphis will no longer be inhabitable. Parts of St. Louis, MO., won’t be either.

      • Brad

        Chicago is very far from there. Why not say St. Louis?

        • Rick

          St. Louis, yeah, if the NMSZ goes off like 1811-1812, St. Louis to Memphis, Poplar Bluff to Paducah gets devastated. Nashville will surely suffer some significant damage, as will many other places in MO, IL, TN, KY, MS, AR, maybe even northern AL. Regardless, it’s going to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen and it’ll take decades for the who area to recover back to the status quo. God help the people in the central US if it happens.

      • Truthseeker

        Paul, if you are looking for more data on this I suggest you start with the Web links contained in the article. Additional information can be found on university Web sites for schools that are located in the seismic area. The History Channel did a program a few years ago about the New Madrid quakes of 1811 & 1812. The State Emergency Management offices for States in the seismic area have Risk Assessments for severe quakes in the area. Finally, do a search for “New Madrid Earthquake Zone” using your favorite search engine. Personnally, I think St.Louis, and Memphis will be the worst hit if a quake similar to the 1811-12 quakes repeat. Good luck.

      • william maynard

        It pays to look things up before throwing stones.

    • FD Pleticha

      Most earthquake insurance coverage has a 15% deductible. That means if you have a $300,000 home and it is totally destroyed, you have to pay out of pocket $45,000 and then your insurance picks up the remainder. Remember, while your home can not be occupied after a quake; you still must pay the mortgage and must have a place to stay. So, there are two primary considerations when buying quake insurance. First, is your home brick? If so, it may likely sustain significant damage from a quake and it may make sense to purchase earthquake coverage. Second, does your homeowner policy provide for ancillary expenses while you are out of your home i.e. food, shelter etc.? Also check to determine if your auto insurance covers you for quake damage. Chances are it does not since the vehicle may to be in the garage when the damage occurs or may be damaged by a “flying missle” not caused by another vehicle.

      Bottom line be very thorough before paying for additional coverage. No question is too silly to ask!

    • Bob West

      Edgar Cayce once predicted that if the New Madrid erupted, the Lake Michigan shoreline would be relocated to St Charles. I would say if that becomes true, it would be devastating

  3. Nancy

    This is so very true. Here in the Chicago area I have felt a couple of small trimmers over the years. When New Madrid happens again the Chicago area will be devastated.

    • Rick

      Sorry, but (God forbid) if the NMSZ goes off like it did in 1811-1812 Chicago will not be “devastated.” Oh it will undoubtedly suffer some damage, much like Charleston SC did during the 1811-1812 quakes/aftershocks, but that’s about it. The devastation will be in the area from St. Louis to Memphis and Poplar Bluff MO to Nashville TN. Areas outside that zone will experience lots of damage but should recover fairly quickly and with small amounts of injury and death. Ground zero, as mentioned above, will take decades to recover. Several main bridges over the Mississippi and Ohio will end up in the river causing major headaches for barge traffic; interstates and main roads will be pretty much impassible for quite a while; west of the MS will evacuate toward OK and east of the MS will evacuate to various points a few hundred miles further east. One other thing to worry about is the vast amount of oil, natural gas, fiber optic and other major commodities that are transported by pipeline will be put out of operation and truck/train traffic east/west will be impacted in a major way too. Not only will the middle of the country suffer many billions of $$$ in damage, but the economy will take a major hit as well. A major earthquake on the NMSZ may be the trigger that shoves the US economy back into a major recession.

  4. Cherie

    I have lived on the west coast all my life and have experienced numerous earth quakes. I have seen to it that I have a hanging object in every room, like a light with a pull chain that will swing when there is any movement of the house. It gives me an opportunity to jump to a safe place. I have also identified where the safe place is in each room so I can quickly dive under a desk a doorway or some safer place that I can be protected. If a quake hits you do not have the time to think about where safety is……….you must do it instinctively. Tell your children where those places are also.

  5. Sue

    St. Louis would be the most impacted. Chicago is mentioned but St. Louis would be devastated. Last time New Madrid went, the Mississippi River ran backwards for a time.

    • Regina

      Memphis would be completely destroyed.
      Reelfoot Lake is a result of those large earthquakes.

      • Pansy Blackwell

        It ‘s been predicted in the book of Jeremiah, that Memphis, or Megidol, would be completely in ruins. And no inhabitants would ever live there AGAIN. The New Madrid must have been what he saw happen centuries ago. That’s what prophets did back then. They were visionaries.

  6. Pete0097

    I live in Florida. The space shuttle produced an “earthquake” that shook the windows. Why would anyone want to live someplace where an earthquake could hit? That is the argument that we always get about living somewhere a hurricane could hit. Build your homes, roads, and big buildings to withstand whatever earthquake you can expect just like we must build ours for 180 mph winds.

  7. kayjay

    A friend once told me, ‘you will never get off this planet alive’. And that area is NOTHING compared to the Yellowstone area…If it goes we are all up the creek!

  8. Bill291212

    PETE0097, you live in Eastern Florida, what, 6 feet above sea level, and you can’t understand why other people live in dangerous areas? Have you not heard of Andrew, Katrina, or Sandy? I suggest you look up information about those storms and possibly re-think your position. And while you’re at it you might also look up information about rising sea levels to see if that affects your thinking.

    • bOB

      Read his post again. He’s saying that’s the question that people always ask people in Florida about living in an area prone to hurricanes. In other words, they use the term “hurricanes” and he’s substituting “earthquakes”–get it now?

    • diane

      Do you think I could have a beach front farm some day in Raleigh

  9. Gus

    Next time you travel in the region, check out the overpasses along I55, I57. Notice how they are already fitted with earthquake cables to help keep the structure intact. Just like the Yellowstone Caldera, it’s not if but when Mother Nature does her thing.

  10. Dunepark

    Very Interesting Blogging; on the whole very informative! ;>)

  11. diane

    I live on the east coast, had a few here . one shook things pretty good. I got earthquake protection after that little incidence. It’s just a few more dollars but will be worth it in the long run , if in the event we get a bad one . and the east coast is due one according to the scientist. When is anyone’s guess.

  12. Carl


    • Rick

      Carl, there are large faults along the coast in SC and some recent faults in OK that have shown signs of life that could cause problems. The more immediate problems in the midwest are ice storms, severe thunderstorms, and tornadoes. Other areas of the country have different significant hazards, but the chances of any one of us getting affected in a major way by any of them is exceedingly low. That’s not to say that the hazards don’t exist and that we shouldn’t take all necessary precautions, but we don’t need to fret about it over much. If it happens, it’s most likely our time. Merry Christmas, sleep peacefully.

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