East Kentucky Earthquake Impact

Nov 14, 2012

Last weekend’s light earthquake, which was centered in far southeast Kentucky, got a lot of people’s attention.  Among them are the region’s geologists and emergency managers.  The four-point-three magnitude quake serves as a reminder of how a much bigger earthquake could one day strike the Commonwealth.

The noontime earthquake, centered not far from Whitesburg Kentucky, jangled some nerves and did some damage.  Letcher County Emergency Management Director Paul Miles says it cracked the foundations in some homes, a church, and the county courthouse.

“People that felt this, everybody I’ve talked to who felt this, nobody had actually been through an earthquake before and I haven’t either because I wasn’t here when it happened, but from the report, you know, just paraphrasing some of the people I talk to, it was one of the most scariest things they’ve ever experienced,” said Miles.

Miles says the quake reminded many mountain residents about the importance of emergency preparedness.  The local disaster official says his office regularly receives related materials from the State Emergency Management Office.

“Every month they will put out different awarenesses, what ever campaign that we’re doing.  If we’re doing severe storms for that time, or if we’re doing earthquake awareness, or whatever.  They’re very good about doing press releases and all that and all we have to do is put them in the local papers,” added Miles.

All this emphasis on preparation is not new, but it’s still not heeded by many people.  Since earthquakes here are rare and unpredictable, most people ignore the risk. 

Already, scientists can detect strains that build up along California’s tectonic plates…which are relatively shallow.  Eventually, the state geologist says scientists might be able calculate the likelihood of a quake there. But, in this part of the continent, earthquakes tend to originate deep under the surface.  So, Kentucky Geological Survey Director Jim Cobb says earthquakes here will always remain unpredictable.

“We can’t dig that deep.  You’re talking maybe 20 miles deep into the earth.  You can’t do that.  So, We’ll never be able to get a prediction to a meaningful time frame of a year, a month, or a day is never gonna happen,” said Cobb.

Cobb says far eastern Kentucky could someday experience a six point magnitude earthquake.   However, the threat of such a disaster in central Kentucky is very low.  Pat Dugger runs the Emergency Management Office in Lexington.

“They haven’t had any movement or activity in thousands and thousands of years and the fact that there’s no prediction or even anticipation of them having any activity what so ever,” said Dugger.

Faults run beneath central Kentucky, but, it’s more probable a town there will feel some impact from the earthquake expected in far western Kentucky along the New Madrid fault.  Still, Dugger says an earthquake in west Kentucky could still disrupt infrastructure.

“We’re more looking at the impacts that it would have on us from damage other places like if infrastructure, road infrastructure or pipeline, such as gas and petroleum were impacted, then that could have a real impact on us.  How do we get goods to central Kentucky, how do we maintain the fuel and the utilities,” added Dugger.

Dugger recommends residents and business owners adopt an ‘all hazards’ approach.  She says that would include an emergency preparedness kit that includes such things as blankets, food, water, medicines, and batteries.