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Midwest Not Well Prepared for Disasters, Study Shows

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Midwest Not Well Prepared for Disasters, Study Shows

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Midwest Not Well Prepared for Disasters, Study Shows

Midwest Not Well Prepared for Disasters, Study Shows

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A recent survey finds that the Midwest is the region of the country least prepared to handle emergencies or natural disasters. A small earthquake Monday on the New Madrid fault in southern Illinois highlights the need for readiness.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This week a minor earthquake shook areas around southern Illinois. There was no damage but emergency workers say more residents should know what to do in the event of a bigger quake. A recent survey says even after witnessing the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, many Americans are ill-prepared to cope with natural disasters, especially in the Midwest. NPR's Cheryl Corley has the story.

CHERYL CORLEY reporting:

Southern Illinois is no stranger to earthquakes. Minor ones occur at least once or twice a year. This latest tremor, which was also felt in bordering states, registered 3.6 on the Richter scale. Southern Illinois and the adjacent New Madrid zone are among the most active seismic areas east of the Rockies. Diane Noserale with the US Geologic Survey says in the early 1800s the New Madrid was the site of three of the strongest earthquakes to ever occur on the US mainland.

Ms. DIANE NOSERALE (US Geologic Survey): The events actually caused the Mississippi River to flow backward in some places. It created some geographic structures that weren't there before. It moved furniture in the White House. If repeated today, it would be a disaster that would be really difficult to envision.

CORLEY: Earthquake history suggests a devastating quake along the New Madrid fault won't come for another couple of hundred years, but a damaging tremor did occur in southern Illinois in 1968. Seismologist Joan Gomberg says smaller quakes in the central US and the East can affect a much larger area than earthquakes in the West.

Ms. JOAN GOMBERG (Seismologist): The other thing is that our infrastructure, unlike certainly places like California and some other places in the West, is our infrastructure is not designed for earthquakes.

CORLEY: So buildings, roads and bridges are much more vulnerable to earthquake shaking. Gomberg says residents east of the Rockies should prepare. A poll released by the American Red Cross and the Council for Excellence in Government suggest it may not be easy. It says many people haven't stocked up on emergency supplies or devised a communication plan to contact family members. And office workers leaving a downtown Chicago building seem to support the findings. Student Melissa Rowe(ph) and psychologist Tory Wilson(ph) said they aren't prepared.

Ms. MELISSA ROWE (Student): Not necessarily for natural disasters. Mostly I'm concerned with, you know, things with fires or tornados.

Mr. TORY WILSON (Psychologist): My wife and I have talked about it. I have two kids, 12 and eight. We probably need to come up with a more concrete plan as opposed to talking about it in theory.

CORLEY: The Red Cross survey says motivating people to plan is difficult. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, only 21 percent of Midwesterners surveyed made plans. So emergency officials are taking steps to raise awareness. The Center for Earthquake Research in Memphis is holding earthquake town meetings in areas along the New Madrid fault. Students and academics at Southern Illinois University produced a public service announcement that's broadcast on public television.

(Soundbite of public service announcement)

Unidentified Man: You might be in a hundred different places at the start of an earthquake, but what should you do when your world begins to move?

CORLEY: The PSA describes what steps residents should take: remaining in open areas outside, crawling under tables if inside. Keith Chambers with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency says state agencies are coordinating efforts on what should happen after an earthquake.

Mr. KEITH CHAMBERS (Illinois Emergency Management Agency): We can't have people in dangerous areas stranded. We can't have a lot of the injured laying, you know, without help. If we can come up with a plan to prevent that, then that's our job to do that.

CORLEY: Seismologists say earthquakes are often a random phenomenon and they can't predict when there might be another big one east of the Rockies. They just want people to get ready as best as they can, as they would for any type of natural disaster.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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