building dilapidated by earthquake
Photo: Robert Yager/Getty Images
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Earthquake: Memphis, Tennessee

Earthquakes are an everyday fear for Californians living along the San Andreas Fault, but not so much for the residents of Memphis. But in reality, Memphians have as much reason as any West Coaster to fear that the ground could start shaking at any moment. The city is in the heart of the most dangerous part of the New Madrid Fault Zone.

In 1811 and 1812, five quakes measuring 8.0 or greater on the Richter scale—some of the largest seismic events the U.S. has ever experienced—were centered in the area and could be felt in roughly two-thirds of the country. Tiny, imperceptible quakes occur along the fault line daily, and some notable shakers measuring up to 5.0 have occurred in the past few decades, but the area is due for another doozy. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates a repeat of the 19th-century quakes would cause more than $60 billion in damages and about 60,000 deaths in Tennessee alone.
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