Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble? Starts the familiar country gospel song. People in East Tennessee were asking each other a similar question recently. A few months ago we asked back around Christmastime.
The nonprofit I serve is in Strawberry Plains, Tennessee. On December 17, 2008 at just before 7:00 pm the ground trembled and shook. A little while later, the United States Geological Study (USGS) confirmed the occurrence of an 2.9 magnitude earthquake in the Strawberry Plains, Tennessee area. The epicenter was located in a field about 3 miles from my office. No one was hurt. There were no reports of damage.
Then on May 23, 2009 at about 9:00 pm the earth shook again. A 2.7 magnitude earthquake gently rocked East Tennessee. This time the USGS confirmed the epicenter to be about 30 miles southwest of Knoxville in Vonore, Tennessee. Again, there were thankfully no reports of injury or damage.
Few residents knew what to make of it. Most people seemed to be surprised that an earthquake could happen in Tennessee.
In actuality, a major Tennessee earthquake ranks at or near the top of FEMA’s worst nightmare disasters. For the purposes of the above referenced FEMA article a major earthquake as defined as being a 7. or higher.
The reality is that few residents know what to do in case of earthquake. That, plus the fact that much of Tennessee lies along the New Madrid Earthquake prone fault, can give people reason to pause. Plus, there are no codes in this area that force builders to adhere to earthquake resistant buildings. Combine those factors with the fact that most Tennesseans do not have earthquake insurance and you are looking at what could be a recipe that would cook up FEMA’s worst nightmare.
Events like the two earthquakes mentioned above should give residents a reason to learn about earthquake safety. If you can’t purchase earthquake insurance (and for most of us in Tennessee it’s not even offered) you can at least educate yourself.
Granted, the chances of a major earthquake happening in East Tennessee may be slim. The most recent earthquake in recorded history happened over 25 years ago. In 1973, Knoxville had a 4.6 earthquake that damaged the University of Tennessee Medical Center and other buildings.
There are those who believe an earthquake big enough to cause damage will never happen. Other residents believe that East Tennessee is already overdue. Time will tell who is right and who is wrong.
The good news is that FEMA has resources that can help us know what to do in case of an earthquake. East Tennessee may never have such an earthquake. That doesn’t mean that we all shouldn’t read up on what to do. Chances are that a lot of us will one day ask the question “Did you feel the mountains (ground) tremble?” If so, it will help if we know what to do.