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Letter to the Editor: Earthquake scenario is grim

Monday, February 16, 2004

To the editor:

I published a novel in 2003 entitled "Memphis 7.9" based upon material produced by the Center for Earthquake Studies at Southeast Missouri State University. I am saddened that the center closed, for I have concluded that the earthquake danger to the central United States is far higher than most people realize.

My estimates are that a 7.9-magnitude event could kill tens of thousands, injure hundreds of thousands and leave over six million homeless throughout the Mississippi River and Ohio River valleys. The river from Cape Girardeau to Vicksburg, Miss., would become unnavigable, and all the bridge crossings would be lost. It would be weeks or months before the most stricken places like Memphis would receive any significant help from the outside. The U.S. gross domestic product would suffer a 25 percent drop, throwing our country into a massive depression. Millions of residents would leave the stricken areas searching for food and medicine.

There are things that can be done to mitigate the damage. But it requires action on the part of everyone to prepare.

Consider this: The U.S. Geological Survey says the chance for a 7.5- to 8.0-magnitude event in the next 50 years as 7 to 10 percent. The chance of blowing your brains out playing Russian roulette with a 12-shot revolver is 8 percent. Even if you could cut those chances in half, would you still play Russian roulette?

SAM PENNY

Livingston, Texas