Geologists: Louisiana may be overdue for earthquake

Published: Sep. 26, 2011 at 3:19 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 27, 2011 at 12:25 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn
The map shows generalized subsurface faults in Louisiana. The solid red lines show fault lines...
The map shows generalized subsurface faults in Louisiana. The solid red lines show fault lines and the dashed red liens show the edges of growing “fault zones.” (Source: Louisiana Geological Survey)
The map shows earthquake locations in Louisiana since 1999. The stars represent locations of a...
The map shows earthquake locations in Louisiana since 1999. The stars represent locations of a particular earthquakes epicenter. (Source: Louisiana Geological Survey)
Source: Louisiana Geological Survey
Source: Louisiana Geological Survey

By Thomas Morrison | LSU Student

As far as natural disasters go, earthquakes are not high on the list of concerns for Louisiana residents. However, LSU geologists say the state may be overdue and the results could be disastrous.

"Based on earthquakes in the past, we will probably get a magnitude 5 (on the Richter scale) earthquake every 15 to 20 years," said Juan Lorenzo, geology professor at LSU.

Fault lines can be found in northwestern and southern Louisiana in a series of faults referred to as the "Baton Rouge fault system." Lorenzo notes earthquakes that begin along these fault lines would be on par with what hit the East Coast last month.

"You would feel the shaking, and it would knock some things over, but there should only be minor damage," Lorenzo said.

"The wild card is if we have another huge event in the New Madrid area," said Richard McCulloh, research assistant with the Louisiana Geological Survey at LSU. "What would the consequences be in Louisiana?"

The New Madrid earthquakes were a series of earthquakes in 1811 along fault lines in Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee. According to the United States Geological Survey, the effects were felt across the nation and were so powerful they changed the flow of the Mississippi river and all but destroyed Charleston, SC.

The damage was minimal in Louisiana, but Lorenzo said next time could be different.

"The possibility is there (for damage), but we just don't know because it hasn't happened before."

An AP analysis on a recent report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission found that the River Bend 1 nuclear plant near the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge fault lines was "nine times" more likely to receive core damage due to an earthquake. The report found that "a quarter of America's reactors may need modifications to make them safer."

McCholloh said the chances of having an incident similar to Japan's Fukushima 1 meltdown are slim because the plant's destruction came more from the ensuing tsunami than the earthquake.

"If we have an earthquake (that destructive), the (nuclear) plant is the least of our worries," McCholloh said.

There are also the levees to consider.

"Because of where the fault lines are, and the levees have been around for a long time, an earthquake could (but is not likely to) cause damage," Lorenzo said.

Lorenzo clarified that the levee system then was not nearly as extensive as it is now, and the results could be different, but there is no concrete evidence to suggest it would.

"Another worst case scenario is if we have a level 5 earthquake," Lorenzo said. "That could cause an underwater landslide of sediments carried by the Mississippi River that could potentially bring down an oil well or platform."

According to McCholloh, the recent earthquakes on the East Coast should be a "wake up call" for the rest of America. "If it had been one magnitude higher on the Richter scale, it could have been very destructive."

In order to prepare for an earthquake, the USGS suggests storing a number of emergency supplies such as: a first aid kit, canned and packaged food, flashlights, batteries, fire extinguishers and prescription medications.

The organization also suggests family members to pick a "meeting place" to reunite afterwards in worse case scenarios.

Click here for more on earthquakes in Louisiana