To Your Health: Illinois faces serious earthquake threat in next 30 years

By Richard S. Gubbe

What may surprise many of us from the northern part of the state is that Illinois is in the top 16 states for earthquake danger. Not so much up here, but you never know until it’s too late.

The recently-revised federal earthquake map shows about one-third of the United States, particularly in southern Illinois, are in danger of an event in the next 30 years.

The U.S. Geological Survey updated its national seismic hazard maps for the first time since 2008, taking into account research from the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan and the 2011 temblor in Virginia.

Parts of 16 states have the highest risk for earthquakes: Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Illinois, Kentucky and South Carolina.

Parts of Washington, Oregon, Utah, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming and Tennessee moved into the top two hazard zones.

While the West remains the hot spot for earthquakes, odds are increasing in parts of the eastern and central U.S., according to the U.S. Geological Survey report.

The eastern U.S. has the potential for larger and more damaging earthquakes than considered in previous maps and assessments,” the report states.

The geological survey issues new seismic hazard maps every six years. The report stated that scientists “learned a lot” from the 5.8 magnitude quake that rattled the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast in 2011, saying it “was among the largest earthquakes to occur along the East Coast in the last century, and helped determine that even larger events are possible.”

Additionally, an increase in earthquakes in the central U.S. could be related to wastewater disposal from oil and gas drilling, especially in states such as Oklahoma. The report notes that “the importance of this phenomenon has increased since the 2008 map update because, since that update, there has been a dramatic increase in the earthquake count within the central U.S.” The agency will continue to study the trend.

The map shows areas at greatest risk for future earthquakes in the U.S and how hard the ground should shake as a result. The maps are used for risk assessments, building codes and insurance purposes.

Some local insurance companies quit offering earthquake insurance after the 2008 quake in the Rock River Valley. Others upped their rates for coverage after the surprise event.

The number of earthquakes has increased on the planet the past two years and whether this is just a normal rash of a shifting of plates or whether the increase is from fracking, offshore drilling or bombs exploding continuously around the globe can’t be proven until after the events occur.

Major events have occurred recently in Japan, Indonesia, South America, Africa, China, Mexico and Russia, among others.

The number may seem troubling to some, while others who live in San Diego don’t let it affect their daily lives. People who live there often use earthquake turtles to tell them when the ground is shaking. For those in constant fear of quakes, most parts of North Dakota, Florida, Minnesota and Wisconsin are in the “lowest hazard” category.

What can we do?

After living in southern Illinois for six years, the idea of an impending quake led to better education and readiness.

Don’t hang pictures over your bed. Don’t have wobbly items that will tumble in a quake unsecured or high up. Attach bookshelves to the wall and make sure TVs and video screens are securely fastened. Have provisions around. Turn off your gas after the quake. Remember, quakes have aftershocks.

In the late 1990s in Las Vegas, a 5.8 earthquake shook my swimming pool like water in a tea cup. I ran outside and into the pool after the long rumbler ended to see if there was any structural damage. Once I entered the shallow end, the aftershock struck, shaking the water over my head. Scary to me, but nothing like a major quake, say the four between 7.0 and 8.1 magnitude that hit southern Illinois in 1811 and 1812 that were felt in more than 50,000 square miles. The lack of a population kept any death toll down.

What you think is an earthquake is what people in San Diego or Barstow call a nuisance. I was in a small quake in San Diego and had to rush my young daughter in my arms six floors in a hurry and got in the parking lot just before an aftershock. Not a big quake, but one in which even hotel employees scrambled outside. Never take the elevator; stairways are the safest exit.

In Barstow, I witnessed a motel full of off-road racers scurry out of their rooms after a small rattler only to have the motel employees scoff at the idea that the shaker we experienced was something to be concerned about.

In Illinois, a 5.4 earthquake occurred in 1968 along the active New Madrid fault line that was felt as far away as Chicago.

The last earthquake here was a small one in February 2010 in the early morning. A 3.8 magnitude quake was downgraded from the original report of 4.3. The quake was centered near Virgil, Ill., in Kane County, 5 miles from Sycamore, and hit around 4 a.m. Folks in DeKalb, Byron, Sycamore, Dixon, Genoa, Cherry Valley, Amboy, Esmond, Mt. Morris, Stillman Valley, Pecatonica, Machesney Park, Rockford, Roscoe and southern Wisconsin say they felt the quake. The quake may have been triggered along a hidden fault line and not the Sandwich fault that goes through DeKalb County.

A future earthquake in the region is extremely likely. In 2005, seismologists and geologists estimated a 90 percent chance of a magnitude 6 to 7 tremor before 2055, likely originating in the Wabash Valley seismic zone on the Illinois-Indiana border or the New Madrid fault zone.

Don’t bite me

Mosquitoes are everywhere. The smaller ones seem to hurt more. For information on a Deet-free, biodegradable insect repellent, look to

Richard Gubbe teaches health-related classes at Rock Valley College. He has been in the energy healing profession since 1985.

From the July 23-29, 2014, issue

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