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Central U.S. marks 200th anniversary of New Madrid quakes with earthquake drill

A U.S. Geological Survey map of the United States showing zones of seismic hazard.
A U.S. Geological Survey map of the United States showing zones of seismic hazard.

The Great Central U.S. ShakeOut is an annual event intended to raise awareness about what to do in the event of a major earthquake.

Steve Besemer of the Missouri Emergency Management Agency says in Missouri and Illinois, more than 900,000 people, most of them students, participated in today's drill.

He says if an earthquake hits, there are three simple steps people should follow.

“Step one is drop down to the floor, step two is to take cover under a sturdy desk or table if possible, and number three is to hold onto that desk or table until the shaking stops,” Besemer said.

Besemer says everyone should have a plan for how to get in touch with their family members in an emergency.

He says people should also prepare a kit with supplies.

“Blankets, a battery-powered radio, some extra medication that you might need, a few dollars cash, some extra water, extra food, can openers, you know, those basic supplies,” Besemer said.

Besemer says the Midwest does have a history of earthquakes.

Two hundred years ago, a series of large tremors shook the New Madrid seismic zone, a fault system that runs through parts of Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The last of those quakes struck on today’s date in 1812, destroying the small southeastern Missouri town of New Madrid.

Some seismologists believe the risk of earthquakes as big as those 200 years ago is minimal, but Besemer says it’s important to be prepared.