EARTHQUAKE

CHICAGO MAGAZINE

NOVEMBER 1984

by Jack Star

Riding the el downtown from the Evanston campus of Northwestern University, where he is a professor of civil engineering, Richard Parmelee looks down on the aging one-, two-, three-, and four story buildings streaming past him and sees the potential, however remote, for disaster.

In scientific circles there is increasing concern about a geological time bomb. buried deep beneath the earth's crust called the New Madrid Fault (the first syllable of Mad'rid is pronounced like the word "mad"). The fault is named after a small town in southeastern Missouri that was devasted in 1811-12 by the worst series of earthquakes this country is known to have experienced. Registering up to 8.7 on the Richter scale, the quakes released energy equivalent to 12,000 Hiroshimasize atomic bombs or 150 million tons of TNT.

For reasons not completely understood, damaging earthquake waves travel much farther in this part of the country than on the West Coast. The area of nonstructural, or so-called architectural, damage of the 1906 San Francisco 8.3-magnitude earthquake was only 40,000 square miles; the New Madrid quakes affected 600,000 square miles. In 1811-12 the United States was sparsely populated. Should a quake with a magnitude of 8.7 occur today, a quarter of the U.S. population would be affected: "the worst natural disaster in the history of our country," according to a high official of the American Red Cross. The monetary cost is estimated at $200 billion by a government financial consultant; the loss of life is beyond calculation.

Chicago is only 300 miles from the northeastern end of the New Madrid Fault, which extends southward from about Cairo, Illinois, for 150 miles (with a width of IS miles) to east-central Arkansas. The fault is extremely active. Since 1974, when scientists ringed it with some 60 seismometers, they have detected 200 quakes a year of at least 1.0 magnitude. Quakes perceptible to people—2.5 to 3.0—are not uncommon here, and a goodsized one of 5.0—enough to cause considerable damage—has been recorded*

Since 1812, according to one of these watching scientists, the fault has stored up enough strain energy to cause, if released, a very large earthquake of 7.6 magnitude, with tremendous damage. The amount of stored energy increases daily.

To call New Madrid a time bomb is not an exaggeration. What might a distant 7.5-magnitude earthquake do to Chicago? On August 31, 1886, an earthquake of such intensity occurred near Charleston South Carolina, 750 miles from Chicago, two and a half times our distance from Cairo, Illinois, where the Midwest fault begins. Nevertheless, it was strong enough to drive guests—many of them only partially clothed—out of the Leland Hotel complaining of feeling "seasick." Telephone cord plugs were knocked from switchboards at the central telephone office. At the Tremont House, a large glass skylight cracked. Had the epicenter (the place beneath the earth where the earthquake was centered) been much closer, by comparison the Chicago Fire of 1871 might *The Richter scale, developed in 1935 by seismologist Charles F. Richter, of the California Institute of Technology, assigns numbers to the earth's move ments to indicate earthquake intensity. In a logarith muc progression, each number is ten times larger in magmitude than the preceding number. A 5 indicates considerable damage, 6 severe damage, 7 major widespread damage, 8 tremendous damage. have looked like a picnic cookout.

On May 26, 1909, a modest 5.3-magnitude quake, thought to have centered in extreme northern Illinois or southern Wisconsin, crumbled chimneys and knocked over a stove in Aurora. Chimneys fell in Waukegan and in several Chicago suburbs. Houses were thrown out of plumb in Beloit, Wisconsin. Sidewalks cracked in Freeport, Illinois.

On November 9, 1968, a 5.5-magnitude quake 258 miles south of Chicago swung high-rise buildings here to and fro like pendulums. A startled editor of Encyclopaedia Britannica reported seeing the water sloshing around in the toilet bowl in her Near North Side apartment. Panicky students at the University of Mississippi, as far from the epicenter as the Britannica editor was,fled their swaying high-rise dormitories. The rocking was felt 900 miles away at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on the 12th floor of a campus building in Cambridge. A major New Madrid quake will produce rock from the earth's interior that began to split the North American plate. But though the plate held together, the scars remained, undoubtedly strained by a huge quake around New Madrid several hundred years ago. Scientists can tell this from inspecting the deformed and faulted sediments beneath a nearby uplifted area.

At 2:15 a.m. on December 16, 1811, the New Madrid Fault literally exploded with a giant earthquake measuring 8.6 on the Richter scale, followed within two months by tremendous 8.4 and 8.7 quakes. In addition, there were five quakes with magnitudes between 7 and 8, and ten with magnitudes between 6 and 7. All 18 of these major quakes were strong enough to be felt in Washington, D.C., awakening residents when they happened at night. In all, 2,000 earthquakes occurred that were strong enough to be felt in Louisville, 200 miles from the epicenters. In Cincinnati, a delicate pendulum put up by a man named Mansfield inside his front window "never ceased to vibrate in nearly five months."

It seems incredible, but the quakes rang church bells and cracked plaster as far away as Boston, Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Virginia. Former President Thomas Jefferson was disturbed by the ground's moving at Monticello, his retreat in Virginia. Clocks stopped in New Orleans. Naturalist John J. Audubon wrote that, while riding horseback in Kentucky, he saw shrubs and trees move "and the ground rise and fall like the waters of the sea" for several minutes. Then on the western horizon there was a strange darkness, and Audubon heard a roar that sounded like a distant tornado.

Although the quakes could be felt over an area of two million square miles, there were no towns of consequence in the most heavily devastated areas. St. Louis then had a population of only 2,000, and Memphis was merely a military outpost. Today, New Madrid Fault quakes of similar intensity would seriously shake highrise buildings in Chicago, Kansas City, Little Rock, Tulsa, Louisville, Birmingham, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Indianapolis—and perhaps Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Des Moines, Omaha, and Dallas.

In the early 19th century, the affected population around New Madrid consisted of hardy frontiersmen and -women, perhaps 5,000 of them, who were used to adversity. There were no natural-gas pipelines crisscrossing the area to rupture (as there are today), and the shivering refugees could keep warm with wood fires. They could live off the land, shooting ducks and catching fish, and traveling by foot or on horseback. A good thing. The landscape looked like Hell.

Five hours after the first quake, there was a rumbling noise like distant thunder. A witness wrote: "In an instant the earth began to shake and totter to such a degree that no persons were able to stand or walk ... for about a minute.... [T]he earth was observed to be as if it were rolling in waves of a few feet in height, with visible depressions between. By and by, these swells were seen to burst, throwing up large volumes of water, sand, and pieces of charcoal, some of which were covered

[with] sulphur." The air stank like Hades.

For a while at least, the mighty Missis

sippi reversed its course. A witness to the

third and largest of the big shocks wrote: '*At first the Mississippi seemed to recede

from its banks its waters gathering up

like a mountain [only to fall] again with

such violence that it took with it whole

groves of young cotton wood trees....

The river was literally covered with the

wreckage of boats." Entire islands disap

peared. Two waterfalls (or rapids) were

formed, one upstream and one down

stream of New Madrid. Steamboat pilots

lost their way as the river's course changed

radically.

Utter devastation occurred in an area 150 miles long and 50 miles wide. Water, sand, and a black substance resembling coal spouted up 15 feet from the shaking ground. Called a sandblow, this phenomenon caused sand to accumulate in places to a depth of five feet; examples can still be seen today from a low-flying helicopter. The ground rose and then fell, permanently, 10 to 20 feet in many places, forming marshes as well as lakes. Giant crevices opened, and travelers had to fell trees to cross the gaps. Forests were wiped out. (The damage to the land was so extensive that in 1815 President James Madison signed into law the first disaster relief act ever passed by Congress. It provided that the victims would be given certificates entitling them to public lands in other areas, including Chicago.)

At New Madrid, where the land had fallen from 25 feet to about 12 feet above the Mississippi, there was scarcely a log cabin standing. Miraculously, there were few deaths. A contemporary historian reports: "A band of unshaven, gaunt 'fanatical pilgrims' appeared in the town shouting, 'Praise God! Repent!' And all but two families left the town."

. For decades, St. Louis University has been known for its earthquake-watching. Since 1970, Dr. Otto W. Nuttli, a 57-yearold professor of geophysics, has become famous by watching New Madrid.

At first, when Nuttli was a graduate student at St. Louis, his studies focused on what was going on far beneath the earth's surface, some 1,700 miles deep. Then, realizing that the world's greatest living seismic laboratory was in his own backyard, so to speak, he shifted his attention to New Madrid.

Reconstructing from historical accounts the damage done by the three big quakes, he found the Richter scale misleading. "The farther we got from the epicenter, the higher the damage that was recorded—we knew that was wrong," says Nuttli. He turned to the Modified Mercalli scale, which assigns a roman numeral to an area hit by an earthquake based on damage or felt effects. The 1811-12 quakes by this measure reached XI to Xll.**

At the future site of Chicago, the ground-shaking produced by these quakes approached VII*** By contrast, the 1886 quake in Charleston, South Carolina, described earlier, whose effects were felt in Chicago, produced only a IV to V here. If one or two MM units are added, for poor soil conditions and high-rise buildings that shake substantially, Nuttli says, it is possible for Chicago to be confronted in places with an MM VIII—should a New Madrid quake occur. This means: Considerable damage to substantial buildings not designed to resist quakes; extensive damage to poorly built structures. Paneled walls would be thrown out of their frame structures. Chimneys, factory smokestacks, columns, and monuments would fall; heavy furniture would be overturned. People in cars would be shaken up. Small amounts of sand and mud would be ejected from the earth.

Nuttli and his colleagues watch New Madrid 24 hours a day, year round. Joining with Memphis State University, which operates some ten seismometers, St. Louis University has ringed the fault line with 50 additional seismometers. The instruments report automatically to St. Louis by leased telephone lines, sometimes via radio, every seismic disturbance as it happens.

"These devices are so sensitive," says Nuttli, as he puzzles over some graph paper that has just emerged from a machine, "that we have to rule out the vibrations of farm tractors and even tree branches." In ten years the detection network has recorded at least 2,000 tremors, many of them at 1.0 Richter scale, which is not usually noticeable to humans—it's **In the Modified Mercalli scale of 1931, a Xll produces the following (abridged): Damage total. Numerous sheanng cracks in ground. Landslides. Slumping of riverbanks. Water channels modified greatly. Water falls. Waves seen on ground surfaces. Objects thrown into the air. ***During an MM Vll quake (abndged): People run outdoors, many finding it difficult to stand. Trees and bushes shake, sometimes strongly. Large church bells ring. Well-built structures sustain slight to moderate damage; considerable damage in poorly built or badly designed buildings. Chimneys and walls suffer cracks. Plaster and stucco fall off in great amounts. Numer ous windows and some pieces of furniture are broken. Loosened brickwork and tiles are shaken down. Weak chimneys are broken at roof lines. Cornices fall from high buildings. Heavy furniture is overturned. the vibration that would be caused if someone drove a two-ton truck off a 12foot drop.

Nuttli is the authority who calculated that since 1812 New Madrid has stored up enough strain energy to produce an eanhquake of 7.6 magnitude. He is also the one who told a reporter from The Economist recently that the chances of an 8.0-magnitude earthquake's occurring before the year 2000 are as high as 25 percent—shorter odds than in Russian roulette.

"I wish I hadn't said that," Nuttli now declares. "Those odds are valid for a smaller quake but not for a big one. There is a relatively low probability of a 7.6 quake by the year 2000. It depends on the friction that's holding the plates together. If it happens at a particular place on the fault where the friction forces are small, then the probability gets higher. l suppose a 7.6 quake is possible."

. Dr. Marshall L. Silver, professor of geotechnical engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a thoughtful man who did his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of California at Berkeley on a phenomenon called liquefaction, which is what happens when the shaking of the ground in an earthquake separates the water from the soil holding it, causing the soil to behave like a dense liquid. Looking at old photographs of the San Francisco earthquake, one can see evidence of liquefaction. It was liquefaction that produced the sandblows that spouted up from beneath the earth in 1811 - 12.

"We never really understood this phenomenon until the 1964 earthquake in Niigata, Japan," says Silver. "A number of big buildings there settled more than three feet and then tilted severely, many of them falling over. People actually walked down the face of one building that had collapsed. Bridges fell. Water, as though from a fountain, spouted up into the streets. Quicksand sucked down automobiles, houses, and other objects. A sewage treatment tank buried in the ground popped ten feet above the surface."

Silver, who spent 1966 as a visiting professor at the University of Tokyo and studied Niigata firsthand, is convinced that the same thing could happen here. "We would have significant damage from an earthquake reaching here, not only from the vibration but also from liquefaction," he asserts.

Silver drew up the foreboding map accompanying this article. The sandy soil along the lakeshore, reaching inland as landfill for several blocks from about 6600 north all the way south to the Indiana state line, has in his expert view "high potential for liquefaction instability." A large part of Chicago shown on Silver's map is built on either dune sand, with "moderate potential for liquefaction instability," or beach sand and gravel, with "some potential." Other large areas shown are built on peat and muck, with little potential for liquefaction but "high potential for seismic instability" that would produce "large amounts of structural shaking" and consequent great damage.

The one-, two-, and three-story unreinforced brick structures standing on this unstable soil would be in particular danger of tumbling down. But Silver is not l.00 percent confident about some of Chicago's apparently sturdily built highrises. The John Hancock Center, for example, rests on concrete pillars that are firmly anchored in the Niagaran limestone 100 feet below Michigan Avenue. It's safe. But many other high-rises, to save twothirds of the costs were constructed with foundations that go down only 65 to 75 feet to what is called hardpan, a layer of densely packed silt and gravel left over from the last glacier. Part of Sears Tower rests on hardpan. Probably this will hold, but along the riverfront many older buildings are supported only by 50-foot wooden pilings resting on stiff blue clay. Many 20- and 30-story buildings built in the 1920s rest on concrete pilings along North Lake Shore Drive that rely on blue clay to support them. "I don't believe, however that Chicago's soil will collapse as badly as Niigata's," Silver says comfortingly.

As a soil expert who has been a consultant to dam builders in Pakistan, Venezuela, Indonesia, and Japan, Silver offers no comfort, however, about what may happen to the many dams Downstate that are close to New Madrid (Cairo is only a half-hour's drive away). "They weren't designed to withstand earthquakes," he says. "In a major quake they'll probably collapse and thousands of persons will drown." Nowadays, financial institutions underwriting a mortgage in the New Madrid area require homeowners to take out earthquake insurance. While ordinary homeowner's insurance may cover such contingencies as fire damage, water damage, or gas explosions that often follow an earthquake, it doesn't cover a house tumbling down.

"Very few of our customers in northern Illinois have earthquake coverage, but there's a brisk market for it in the southern part of the state," says Philip G. Buffinton, vice-president of State Farm Fire and Casualty Company. The insurance is reasonable: $30 a year for a $100,000 frame house, $50 for a brick veneer house (both with a two-percent deductible).

Disaster planners who are finally beginning to consider the ramifications of a major earthquake, however, raise a thorny problem. While a huge insurance company such as State Farm would probably survive the disaster of a $200-billion earthquake, many smaller companies might not, according to an expert at a recent Federally sponsored earthquake conference. "Their financial reserves might be invested in broken sewer systems, corporate bonds of companies that now are gone, and stocks of companies in the affected areas that are now devalued," he warned.

Another problem would be reconstruction in the face of such widespread damage: "Insurance companies will begin lining up carpenters, plumbers, and other contractors for hundreds of miles," said the expert, "... but try to get your roof fixed or your kitchen sink repaired any time in the next two years."

With a disaster of such magnitude possible, the Federal Government is belatedly beginning to recognize that only its resources are great enough to respond in the aftermath of an earthquake. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, where Gary Johnson is acting chief of the earthquake and natural hazards division, has been given this responsibility.

"A damaging earthquake is likely in the next 20 to 30 years," he says. "Accordingly, we should plan for it. We don't want people to panic but rather to approach it calmly and methodically, as we do in the case of hurricanes and tornadoes. "

Through what is called the Central For a while at least, the mighty Missis

sippi reversed its course. A witness to the

third and largest of the big shocks wrote: '*At first the Mississippi seemed to recede

from its banks its waters gathering up

like a mountain [only to fall] again with

such violence that it took with it whole

groves of young cotton wood trees....

The river was literally covered with the

wreckage of boats." Entire islands disap

peared. Two waterfalls (or rapids) were

formed, one upstream and one down

stream of New Madrid. Steamboat pilots

lost their way as the river's course changed

radically.

Utter devastation occurred in an area 150 miles long and 50 miles wide. Water, sand, and a black substance resembling coal spouted up 15 feet from the shaking ground. Called a sandblow, this phenomenon caused sand to accumulate in places to a depth of five feet; examples can still be seen today from a low-flying helicopter. The ground rose and then fell, permanently, 10 to 20 feet in many places, forming marshes as well as lakes. Giant crevices opened, and travelers had to fell trees to cross the gaps. Forests were wiped out. (The damage to the land was so extensive that in 1815 President James Madison signed into law the first disaster relief act ever passed by Congress. It provided that the victims would be given certificates entitling them to public lands in other areas, including Chicago.)

At New Madrid, where the land had fallen from 25 feet to about 12 feet above the Mississippi, there was scarcely a log cabin standing. Miraculously, there were few deaths. A contemporary historian reports: "A band of unshaven, gaunt 'fanatical pilgrims' appeared in the town shouting, 'Praise God! Repent!' And all but two families left the town."

. For decades, St. Louis University has been known for its earthquake-watching. Since 1970, Dr. Otto W. Nuttli, a 57-yearold professor of geophysics, has become famous by watching New Madrid.

At first, when Nuttli was a graduate student at St. Louis, his studies focused on what was going on far beneath the earth's surface, some 1,700 miles deep. Then, realizing that the world's greatest living seismic laboratory was in his own backyard, so to speak, he shifted his attention to New Madrid.

Reconstructing from historical accounts the damage done by the three big quakes, he found the Richter scale misleading. "The farther we got from the epicenter, the higher the damage that was recorded—we knew that was wrong," says Nuttli. He turned to the Modified Mercalli scale, which assigns a roman numeral to an area hit by an earthquake based on damage or felt effects. The 1811-12 quakes by this measure reached XI to Xll.**

At the future site of Chicago, the ground-shaking produced by these quakes approached VII*** By contrast, the 1886 quake in Charleston, South Carolina, described earlier, whose effects were felt in Chicago, produced only a IV to V here. If one or two MM units are added, for poor soil conditions and high-rise buildings that shake substantially, Nuttli says, it is possible for Chicago to be confronted in places with an MM VIII—should a New Madrid quake occur. This means: Considerable damage to substantial buildings not designed to resist quakes; extensive damage to poorly built structures. Paneled walls would be thrown out of their frame structures. Chimneys, factory smokestacks, columns, and monuments would fall; heavy furniture would be overturned. People in cars would be shaken up. Small amounts of sand and mud would be ejected from the earth.

Nuttli and his colleagues watch New Madrid 24 hours a day, year round. Joining with Memphis State University, which operates some ten seismometers, St. Louis University has ringed the fault line with 50 additional seismometers. The instruments report automatically to St. Louis by leased telephone lines, sometimes via radio, every seismic disturbance as it happens.

"These devices are so sensitive," says Nuttli, as he puzzles over some graph paper that has just emerged from a machine, "that we have to rule out the vibrations of farm tractors and even tree branches." In ten years the detection network has recorded at least 2,000 tremors, many of them at 1.0 Richter scale, which is not usually noticeable to humans—it's **In the Modified Mercalli scale of 1931, a Xll produces the following (abridged): Damage total. Numerous sheanng cracks in ground. Landslides. Slumping of riverbanks. Water channels modified greatly. Water falls. Waves seen on ground surfaces. Objects thrown into the air. ***During an MM Vll quake (abndged): People run outdoors, many finding it difficult to stand. Trees and bushes shake, sometimes strongly. Large church bells ring. Well-built structures sustain slight to moderate damage; considerable damage in poorly built or badly designed buildings. Chimneys and walls suffer cracks. Plaster and stucco fall off in great amounts. Numer ous windows and some pieces of furniture are broken. Loosened brickwork and tiles are shaken down. Weak chimneys are broken at roof lines. Cornices fall from high buildings. Heavy furniture is overturned. the vibration that would be caused if someone drove a two-ton truck off a 12foot drop.

Nuttli is the authority who calculated that since 1812 New Madrid has stored up enough strain energy to produce an eanhquake of 7.6 magnitude. He is also the one who told a reporter from The Economist recently that the chances of an 8.0-magnitude earthquake's occurring before the year 2000 are as high as 25 percent—shorter odds than in Russian roulette.

"I wish I hadn't said that," Nuttli now declares. "Those odds are valid for a smaller quake but not for a big one. There is a relatively low probability of a 7.6 quake by the year 2000. It depends on the friction that's holding the plates together. If it happens at a particular place on the fault where the friction forces are small, then the probability gets higher. l suppose a 7.6 quake is possible."

. Dr. Marshall L. Silver, professor of geotechnical engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a thoughtful man who did his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of California at Berkeley on a phenomenon called liquefaction, which is what happens when the shaking of the ground in an earthquake separates the water from the soil holding it, causing the soil to behave like a dense liquid. Looking at old photographs of the San Francisco earthquake, one can see evidence of liquefaction. It was liquefaction that produced the sandblows that spouted up from beneath the earth in 1811 - 12.

"We never really understood this phenomenon until the 1964 earthquake in Niigata, Japan," says Silver. "A number of big buildings there settled more than three feet and then tilted severely, many of them falling over. People actually walked down the face of one building that had collapsed. Bridges fell. Water, as though from a fountain, spouted up into the streets. Quicksand sucked down automobiles, houses, and other objects. A sewage treatment tank buried in the ground popped ten feet above the surface."

Silver, who spent 1966 as a visiting professor at the University of Tokyo and studied Niigata firsthand, is convinced that the same thing could happen here. "We would have significant damage from an earthquake reaching here, not only from the vibration but also from liquefaction," he asserts.

Silver drew up the foreboding map accompanying this article. The sandy soil along the lakeshore, reaching inland as landfill for several blocks from about 6600 north all the way south to the Indiana state line, has in his expert view "high potential for liquefaction instability." A large part of Chicago shown on Silver's map is built on either dune sand, with "moderate potential for liquefaction instability," or beach sand and gravel, with "some potential." Other large areas shown are built on peat and muck, with little potential for liquefaction but "high potential for seismic instability" that would produce "large amounts of structural shaking" and consequent great damage.

The one-, two-, and three-story unreinforced brick structures standing on this unstable soil would be in particular danger of tumbling down. But Silver is not l.00 percent confident about some of Chicago's apparently sturdily built highrises. The John Hancock Center, for example, rests on concrete pillars that are firmly anchored in the Niagaran limestone 100 feet below Michigan Avenue. It's safe. But many other high-rises, to save twothirds of the costs were constructed with foundations that go down only 65 to 75 feet to what is called hardpan, a layer of densely packed silt and gravel left over from the last glacier. Part of Sears Tower rests on hardpan. Probably this will hold, but along the riverfront many older buildings are supported only by 50-foot wooden pilings resting on stiff blue clay. Many 20- and 30-story buildings built in the 1920s rest on concrete pilings along North Lake Shore Drive that rely on blue clay to support them. "I don't believe, however that Chicago's soil will collapse as badly as Niigata's," Silver says comfortingly.

As a soil expert who has been a consultant to dam builders in Pakistan, Venezuela, Indonesia, and Japan, Silver offers no comfort, however, about what may happen to the many dams Downstate that are close to New Madrid (Cairo is only a half-hour's drive away). "They weren't designed to withstand earthquakes," he says. "In a major quake they'll probably collapse and thousands of persons will drown." Nowadays, financial institutions underwriting a mortgage in the New Madrid area require homeowners to take out earthquake insurance. While ordinary homeowner's insurance may cover such contingencies as fire damage, water damage, or gas explosions that often follow an earthquake, it doesn't cover a house tumbling down.

"Very few of our customers in northern Illinois have earthquake coverage, but there's a brisk market for it in the southern part of the state," says Philip G. Buffinton, vice-president of State Farm Fire and Casualty Company. The insurance is reasonable: $30 a year for a $100,000 frame house, $50 for a brick veneer house (both with a two-percent deductible).

Disaster planners who are finally beginning to consider the ramifications of a major earthquake, however, raise a thorny problem. While a huge insurance company such as State Farm would probably survive the disaster of a $200-billion earthquake, many smaller companies might not, according to an expert at a recent Federally sponsored earthquake conference. "Their financial reserves might be invested in broken sewer systems, corporate bonds of companies that now are gone, and stocks of companies in the affected areas that are now devalued," he warned.

Another problem would be reconstruction in the face of such widespread damage: "Insurance companies will begin lining up carpenters, plumbers, and other contractors for hundreds of miles," said the expert, "... but try to get your roof fixed or your kitchen sink repaired any time in the next two years."

With a disaster of such magnitude possible, the Federal Government is belatedly beginning to recognize that only its resources are great enough to respond in the aftermath of an earthquake. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, where Gary Johnson is acting chief of the earthquake and natural hazards division, has been given this responsibility.

"A damaging earthquake is likely in the next 20 to 30 years," he says. "Accordingly, we should plan for it. We don't want people to panic but rather to approach it calmly and methodically, as we do in the case of hurricanes and tornadoes. "

Through what is called the Central United States Earthquake Preparedness Project, his staff works with state directors of emergency services (Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas), who have formed a nonprofit corporation called the Central United States Earthquake Consortium. This year Johnson gave the consortium $298,000 to develop a preparedness plan within five years and to hold a conference, the third in recent years, at which information would be exchanged. Reading transcripts of the several conferences gives one pause:

"Delivery of [relief] services ... will not be simple," said Roy S. Popkin, retiring deputy director of disaster services for the American Red Cross. "For a period of time in some places, it may not even be possible.... Much of this educational effort focuses on family or employee selfprotection during the first two to three days, while efforts to clear roads and restore at least some rudimentary utilities make possible the implementation of mass-care services." In other words, don't count on any immediate help.

With interruption of electricity, computers won't function and "the financial community will be unable to operate in an electronic age," warned Jon Scott, a former official of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. "The disruption of cash flow will be felt almost immediately." In other words, who will cash your check? "One expected result is numerous suits and countersuits that will clog the civil court system for years."

Anticipating $200 billion in damage, Scott said that so far the Federal Government has not provided money or authority to any of its agencies "to initiate and fund long-range reconstruction after any major disaster, including earthquakes." He suggested that the model might be the gigantic Reconstruction Finance Corporation of the 1930s, which helped lead the nation out of the Depression. Also, the government might have to impose credit controls and perhaps ration food and fuel

Dr. Samuel W. Speck of the Federal Emergency Management Agency told the conference that a big quake "will be just as devastating as if the country were hit with nuclear weapons in a sneak attack. The death and destruction will be similar....

"While no sane person wants to plan for the eventualities of nuclear war, no sane person should avoid planning for the eventualities of the wide variety of natural disasters. The chances that portions of our nation will be destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake are much greater than the chances of nuclear war."

Speck said that since state and local governments have primary responsibility for the public safety and welfare, they must have the primary responsibility for disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. Responsibility for building earthquake-resistant structures, he said, rests with local building officials and the construction industry. The person who would coordinate relief measures here, should there be an earthquake today, is the state director of emergency services, a big, bluff man named Erie Jones, who has driven up to my suburban home in his antenna-studded state station wagon from a regional office in Marion to have breakfast with me. About to be named director of the Central United States Earthquake Consortium, he is unusually frank:

"The Illinois Emergency Act of 1975 passed nearly unanimously by the state legislature, is a splendid act, but local governments are not accepting responsibility. The inertia is incredible. People see no use in planning for a hydrogen bomb that will wipe out all of northern Illinois. Still, last month in our little agency [65 employees and an annual budget of $2.5 million], we responded 242 times to emergencies: spills of hazardous materials, tornadoes, floods, and bomb threats.

"Six years ago the Cook County Board voted not to have a civil defense organization, turning the responsibility over to the sheriff, who doesn't do anything about it. It's so bad in Cook County that we had to move a state employee here to serve as coordinator with the county Chicago isn't doing much more. Emergency services aren't popular because it's like buying life insurance: You won't be around to spend the money."

Finishing his orange juice, toast, and coffee, Jones, who was named state civil defense director 12 years ago and who knows better than anybody else what might happen to Chicago in an MM VIIl earthquake, says;

"Should the quake occur in the winter, people will freeze to death because the natural-gas lines that supply Chicago will have ruptured at New Madrid. You'll be lucky here in one sense: You might not have water coming from your hydrants to fight fires, but youll at least be able to draw some from the lake; people Downstate depend on reservoirs that will have emptied. Your major expressways, which are below grade level, will flood, and there may be no electricity to pump them dry.

"Damaged chemical plants will release toxic fumes. The streets may buckle and, in any event, will be impassable, with fallen building facades, broken parapets, and mounds of shattered glass. (Curiously, mobile homes, which are so susceptible in a tornado, will probably survive very well.) The cries of trapped and injured victims will go unheeded. Doctors and the injured will have trouble making their way to hospitals.

"For many persons, there will be no work after an earthquake our electronic society is so fragile and so interdependent. Radio and TV stations may not be able to go back on the air. Without computers, the financial community will close down Factories may not be able to reopen. River barges carrying fuel oil, coal, grain, and other vital commodities may not be able to make their way up the Mississippi.

"If we have an earthquake tomorrow we're in big trouble. But I'm not entirely pessimistic. We were in the same big trouble in 1979 when Three Mile Island happened, but today we're in relatively good shape with our nuclear plants. Maybe, if we wake up, we can do something.". Jack Ahern, director of emergency preparedness and disaster services for Chicago, is an authentic fire-fighter hero, who was awarded the city's highest medal after he leaped from an adjoining third story to rescue three children from a Fl aming apartment.

Retired for ten years on a disability pension, Ahern supervises inspectors in the Chicago area for the state fire marshal, who has loaned him, half-time, to the City of Chicago in the event of a disaster the fire commissioner will take charge. Ahern, who is supposed to plan for disasters, has been given a secretary and a cubicle at the Fire Academy

Driving me around the city in a wellused 1977 black Oldsmobile that was once assigned to a late fire commissioner, Ahern shows me the emergency equipment the city has ready for a disaster. In the big firehouse at Illinois and Dearborn streets, we inspect a large Chevy truck filled with lime sacks and protective plastic suits that await a chemical spill At a firehouse at Leavitt and Madison, he shows me one of the department's three radio communications vans used by commanders at big fires. Nice, but a major earthquake will require a lot more

At the Fire Department Academy at Taylor and Jefferson streets, built atop the place where Mrs. O'Leary's cow allegedly started the Chicago Fire, Ahern shows me what will someday he the new central fire alarm office (its automatic computer dispatching system still doesn't work, after five years of trying). He shows me where he'd like to build an adjoining emergency operating center, where every city department would have its own cubicles for staff in the event of a disaster. But right now there's no money in the budget for it, he says. A rusty snowplow rests on the lawn where he hopes to build.

At 43rd and Paulina streets, Ahern has to reach for his keys to unlock the firehouse abandoned some years ago by Engine 49. Some 48 civilian volunteers staff the place for emergency disaster services as needed; they are summoned by an automatic telephone dialer The equipment, mostly army surplus, consists of an air compressor with built-in lights, a huge crane, and a vehicle with pumps and smoke ejectors Perhaps the building's unreinforced bricks, laid in 1917, won't collapse on top of the equipment in an earthquake.

To get matching Federal funds allocated by the state, Ahern has to come up with a comprehensive disaster plan. For a while this responsibility belonged to a late fire commissioner and then to the public safety director, whose job was abolished. Ahern shows me a binder holding the old plan; it is three-quarters of an inch thick. "The new one is already four and a half inches thick and there are two more inches coming," he says I ask to see the section on earthquakes in the old plan. It consists of only 17 lines that conclude, "Risk potential: minor." I pray that this is so. I pray that this is so. END [SIDEBARS FOLLOW] EARTHQUAKE-PROOF BUILDINGS—

AN EXPENSIVE DREAM? Dr. Richard Wright, the structural engineer who heads the Center for Building Technology at the National Bureau of Standards, doesn't believe that Chicagoans should give up as an expensive dream the earthquakeproofing of their buildings.

"The extra cost of making a building earthquake resistant is modest, maybe as little as one to two percent, if you start with a building that is inherently resistant, like a skyscraper built to survive high winds," he says. "Of course, the cost would be higher for a building not so well designed."

Liquor stores in California, he points out, have an inexpensive rim on the edge of their shelves to keep bottles from falling off should buildings start shaking. Hot-water heaters are tied to walls with galvanized steel plumber's strapping costing less than a dollar—thus preventing a fire or explosion caused by leakage of natural gas. If bookshelves, buffets, and hutches are secured to the wall with hardware which costs only pennies—they won't fall on a room's occupants. Iron gas-pipe connections can be replaced with flexible ones at moderate cost.

Prick chimneys are particularly vulnerable, even in a low-intensity earthquake, and most authorities feel that these are worth reinforcing. Seismologist Otto W. Nuttli points out that in 1906 most of the damage in San Francisco was not caused by the earth's shaking but by the huge fire that followed. "The most common damage was to chimneys, whose plugged flues overheated when building occupants continued to use their stoves and set their houses on fire," he says.

One of these days Chicago architects will start paying attention to earthquakes, avoiding irregular shapes and framing systems. They won't build trendy multistory towers with an open first floor. The weight of such a building rests on concrete columns that leave room for ground-level parking and a glassedin lobby, but these columns can disintegrate, which would cause the upper floors to pancake down. This has happened in California and South America in recent years.

Also vulnerable are so-called tilt-up structures, with walls that are cast in concrete while lying on the ground and then are tilted upward and joined at the corners. Many such buildings collapsed like a house of cards in the 1971 San Fernando Valley quake.

Houses that have two-car garages supporting living quarters above them require extra bracing. Wood-frame houses are among the safest kinds of structures in an earthquake, provided that they are securely fastened to their foundations—with anchor bolts every four to six feet and about one foot from the ends of the sill plates. And brick structures should, of course, be double layered, with concrete and steel reinforcing rods between the layers.

J.S. A WALK AROUND THE TOWN ON THE FAULT, NEW MADRID, MO. Recently, driving for the first time through New Madrid, Missouri (population 3,402), I didn't realize until I was past the town limits that I had ever actually been in town, the bull's-eye of the geological time bomb that threatens us all.

Backtracking, I discovered the friendly shops on Main Street and the tiny, whitepainted brick New Madrid County Court House, whose three stories make it the tallest building there.

Driving atop the high dirt levee that guards the town from the ever-threatening mile-wide Mississippi River, I got a good view of the waterfront that put New Madrid on the map in the 19th century. Down yonder was the Ralph Anderson Lumber Company (36 employees), which until recently imported logs in rafts that came upriver; today they arrive on barges.

The Noranda Aluminum Smelting Plant, which produces aluminum rods, is the big employer (2,000 workers); Associated Electric Power, which makes some of the cheapest electricity in the country, employs 226, and is the reason why the aluminum company is in town. There is also some commercial fishing—for spoonbills and channel cat; the fishermen are allowed to keep the buffalo and the carp but must throw back the bass and the crappie for the sport fishermen. It seems as if everyone in town has a boat; the river provides the principal recreation.

Around New Madrid, the scars from the biggest series of earthquakes that ever struck America are not evident. The once-roiled fields are green with soybeans, milo, wheat, corn, and—yes, the town is far enough south—cotton. Mayor William R. Phillips, whose fertilizer firm supplies the farmers, wishes we reporters would stop coming around. "We don't need this kind of publicity," he told me. "We're trying to attract industry."

Puffing deeply on his cigar, Phillips said: "I'd worry more about the Mississippi coming over the levee. You can't do much about an earthquake. Either it comes tomorrow or in a hundred years." If it comes tomorrow New Madrid can't do much. its police force (which has an elected chief) totals only six officers. There is no civil defense organization. The capacity of the volunteer fire department (two engines with 500-gallon water tanks and 20 men) gives the town a fire insurance rating of 10 (Chicago has a 2).

It was election day and Marilyn Ivy, electioneering on the courthouse steps, did not know yet that her husband wouldn't be reelected sheriff. "I grew up on a farm near town and I've been hearing about the coming earthquake since I was three," she said reassuringly. "I'm still here."

William B. Pinnell, who runs the County Port Authority and once was the grammarschool principal, asked: "Why worry about something you can't do anything about? I read in the papers that President Reagan's California ranch sits astride an earthquake fault. If we should worry, he should!"

Cheerful Jimmy Henderson, who runs a plumbing and heating and air-conditioning business and has spent all 29 of his years in town, took the time to walk me over to the corner of Motto and Main, to show me a 30-foot-long crack that runs along the brick facade of the Hunter-Rost Insurance Company building. "It was put there by an earthquake just a few years ago," he said. I asked Jimmy if he worried a lot. "Not much I can do about it," he replied. "One thing about that big earthquake, it sure did make a lot of good fishing spots." He is talking about the lakes formed in 1811-12, when the ground sank as much as 20 feet in some places.

Mary Sue House, the entire office staff of the Chamber of Commerce and of the County Port Authority, said she recently got a letter from a San Francisco couple who were "thinking about settling here, but they had heard on TV that there might be an earthquake. Hah! Only three days later, I heard that San Francisco had had a noticeable earthquake. "

Having lived through four or five mild earthquakes here since 1950, Chamber of Commerce president Bill French, who also works as office manager for Doc Hedgepeth, the dentist, was unconcerned about a bigger one happening. "Why worry?" he asked. A favorite New Madrid expression.

James H. Cravens, who served five terms as mayor and who, as a store owner, sold a $6.95 T-shirt inscribed VISIT NEW MADRID (WHILE ITS STILL THERE), was the only resident who seemed irritated with me. "We've been bothered by at least a half-dozen television crews and a couple of dozen newspaper and magazine reporters—like from Time, Newsweek, and The Wall Street Journal—and we're tired of it," he said. "To me it's not news; it's like the sun coming up in the morning."

I asked the former mayor whether he would pose with his famous T-shirt. He declined. "I don't have time to f_ with you," he said straightforwardly. J. S.