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New Madrid Fault Zone



Memphis sits squarely in the damage range of the New Madrid Fault Zone, the most active fault east of the Rockies. The fault's most devastating quake occurred almost 200 years ago, leaving seismologists to speculate that the next "big one" could be just around the corner.


The New Madrid Seismic zone lies within the central Mississippi Valley, is 150 miles long, and touches five states. Its northernmost point is in southern Illinois and extends southward into eastern Arkansas and west Tennessee.


From 1811 to 1812, the New Madrid Fault Zone saw some of the largest earthquakes in North America's history. During a four month period, five earthquakes with magnitude estimates of 8.0 or greater were recorded in the zone. These quakes were responsible for causing the Mississippi River to briefly flow backwards, leading to the formation of Reelfoot Lake.


The New Madrid Fault Zone boasts at least one earthquake a day, though most of these quakes are too weak for us to feel. Longtime residents of Memphis may remember the 5.0 that ocurred in March of 1976 or the 4.8 in September of 1990. Scientists say that the probability of a magnitude 6.0 or larger quake occurring on the New Madrid Fault in the next 50 years is between 25 and 40 percent.

Earthquake Preparedness:

  • Keep an earthquake survival kit in your home and in your car.
  • Learn how to turn off gas, water, and electricity in your home.
  • Have a plan for meeting up with your family after a catastrophe.
  • Be sure that heavy objects are tightly secured to the walls.
  • Add earthquake coverage to your homeowner's insurance policy.

In the Event of an Earthquake:

  • During an earthquake, take cover under a heavy piece of furniture or brace yourself in a doorway.
  • Stay away from buildings, trees, power lines, and overpasses.
  • When the quake has stopped, check for injuries on yourself and others.
  • Check for safety concerns: unstable buildings, gas leaks, downed power lines, etc.
  • Listen to the radio or television for any instructions from emergency officials.
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