Same Earthquake That Rattled California Could Devastate Tennessee


Tennessee residents may hear news about this week’s major earthquake in California from afar, but what some don’t realize is the same thing could happen here — with more devastating results.

As reported, Tennessee also lies along the East Tennessee Seismic zone.

No one at the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency returned The Tennessee Star’s repeated messages seeking comment Friday. Nor did anyone at the Memphis-based Center for Earthquake Research and Information.

Members of those agencies told The Star last year, however, that a large-magnitude earthquake in the central part of the United States would jolt Tennessee and do far more damage here than another similar-sized quake out west could do to California.

That’s because Tennessee and California have different type terrains and that makes all the difference.

As The Associated Press reported this week, the strongest earthquake in 20 years shook a large swath of Southern California and parts of Nevada on Thursday. The quake rattled nerves on July 4 and caused injuries and damages in a town near the epicenter, followed by a swarm of ongoing aftershocks.

The 6.4 magnitude quake struck at 10:33 a.m. in the Mojave Desert, about 150 miles northeast of Los Angeles, near the town of Ridgecrest, California.

Gary Patterson with the Center for Earthquake Research and Information said last year that Tennessee earthquakes cause more catastrophic damage.

“If you take the same magnitude earthquake in the central United States in Tennessee versus California then the one in Tennessee will be felt over a five to 20 times larger area. You get more bang for your buck,” Patterson said.

“The deep geology here is much different. We are talking 10 to 20 miles deep here. Compared to California, the deep geology here we have is hard, cold dense rocks that transmit seismic energy and vibrations very efficiently. The vibrations go out over huge areas. In California the deep rocks are relatively hot and shattered. The seismic energy dissipates quicker.”

TEMA officials, meanwhile, say they’ve spent decades planning for an earthquake that impacts Tennessee and say it’s best for other Tennesseans to do the same.

TEMA spokesman Dean Flener said last year that if the big one hits then Tennessee residents need to plan for getting cut off from the rest of the world. That means having five to 10 days’ worth of food and water, backup generators for cell phones, cash on hand, and an emergency supply of medicine, among other things.

Also as The Star reported, most Volunteer State residents don’t have earthquake insurance, according to an official with the state’s Department of Commerce and Insurance.

That matters because Tennessee lies along two fault lines.

A minor earthquake centered in East Tennessee recently reverberated into four surrounding states.

Media outlets have already predicted a massive earthquake will strike this area of the country at some point.

As The Star reported, a series of high-magnitude quakes that originated in the central part of the United States wrecked Memphis in 1811 and 1812. Those quakes started along the New Madrid Fault line in Missouri. Their reverberations rattled church bells as far away as Boston, Mass.

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]







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  1. […] The Star reported last week, Tennessee also lies along the East Tennessee Seismic […]