Exercise trains for response in event of New Madrid earthquake

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 | 7:43 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — Emergency responders and scores of volunteers in the Kansas City area have been preparing this week for an influx of up to 100,000 refugees who likely would flee to the region in the event of a devastating earthquake on the New Madrid fault in eastern Missouri.

The drills are part of National Level Exercise 2011, an event coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency focusing on the response in eight states most likely to be hit hardest by a significant New Madrid quake.

Emergency management teams have been working with the American Red Cross to simulate situations that could come up in the event of a strong earthquake. The Independence Event Center will be the site Thursday morning of a simulated emergency reception center where evacuees would go to get information following a disaster. The public is invited to stop by the reception area site from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

"Historically, the New Madrid fault has had a significant event every 200 years, and it's been right at 200 years since the last one — one of the strongest in U.S. history," said Jackson County Emergency Preparedness Director Michael Curry. "Geological data show that 200 years before that there was a significant event, and 200 years before that was a significant event. Sooner or later we will have another significant event."

The epicenter of the New Madrid Seismic Zone is in southeast Missouri, where powerful earthquakes in 1811 and 1812 reportedly caused the Mississippi River to flow backward for a time and destroyed structures hundreds of miles away.

The cities of St. Louis and Memphis, Tenn., have been singled out as the largest population centers that could see massive devastation if a big earthquake hit the fault.

Curry said Missouri is split into three parts in planning for a New Madrid quake. The western part of the state is the recovery and resource section, the central part is the response section and the eastern part is the affected area.

What that means is people in the central part of the state would be primary responders to a disaster on the state's east side, while western Missouri would provide a place for refugees to flee.

Other states participating in their own drills as part of the national exercise are Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa and Arkansas.

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