Earthquake Threat

April 9, 2010 • Volume 20, Issue 14
Is the U.S. ready for a seismic catastrophe?
By Thomas J. Billitteri


A severe earthquake reduces an apartment building to ruins (AFP/Getty Images/Johnathan Nourok)
An apartment building lies in ruins following the magnitude 6.9 earthquake that hit San Francisco in 1989, causing 63 deaths and $6 billion in damage. The U.S. Geological Survey says it is a virtual certainty that a magnitude 6.7 or larger quake will hit California within the next 30 years. (AFP/Getty Images/Johnathan Nourok)

The earthquakes that ravaged Haiti and Chile this year raised compelling questions about the ability of the United States to cope with a seismic catastrophe of its own. Thirty-nine states, from Alaska and California to the Carolinas and New England, are considered susceptible to moderate or severe quakes, and the Midwest is widely viewed as among the most vulnerable regions. In California, the U.S. Geological Survey puts the probability of a magnitude 6.7 or larger quake within the next 30 years at more than 99 percent. Should a magnitude 6.5 quake hit Manhattan, which sits on ancient faults, damage could total well over $1 trillion. Officials say the United States is making progress at mitigating potential death and destruction from future earthquakes but has a long way to go. In developing countries, scores of cities — overcrowded, poorly built and many sitting on seismic faults — remain highly vulnerable.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Urban Planning
Jun. 03, 2022  The Future of the City
Jun. 04, 2021  Rebuilding America's Infrastructure
Aug. 21, 2020  Economic Clustering
Nov. 01, 2019  Caregiving Crunch
Jul. 27, 2012  Smart Cities
Apr. 09, 2010  Earthquake Threat
Apr. 2009  Rapid Urbanization
Jun. 23, 2006  Downtown Renaissance Updated
May 28, 2004  Smart Growth
Oct. 03, 1997  Urban Sprawl in the West
Mar. 21, 1997  Civic Renewal
Oct. 13, 1995  Revitalizing the Cities
Jun. 09, 1989  Not in My Back Yard!
Apr. 28, 1989  Do Enterprise Zones Work?
Nov. 22, 1985  Supercities: Problems of Urban Growth
Jul. 23, 1982  Reagan and the Cities
Nov. 18, 1977  Saving America's Cities
Oct. 31, 1975  Neighborhood Control
Nov. 21, 1973  Future of the City
Feb. 07, 1973  Restrictions on Urban Growth
May 20, 1970  Urbanization of the Earth
Nov. 06, 1968  New Towns
Oct. 04, 1967  Private Enterprise in City Rebuilding
Feb. 10, 1965  Megalopolis: Promise and Problems
Mar. 04, 1964  City Beautiful
Aug. 21, 1963  Urban Renewal Under Fire
Jan. 21, 1959  Metropolitan Areas and the Federal Government
Jul. 30, 1958  Persistence of Slums
Dec. 09, 1953  Outspreading Cities
Nov. 22, 1952  Slum Clearance: 1932–1952
Jan. 14, 1937  Zoning of Urban and Rural Areas
Earth Sciences