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News Release, Kansas Geological Survey, Sept. 19, 2000

Earthquake Risk Low, But Real in Some Parts of State

LAWRENCE--The risk from earthquakes in Kansas is relatively low, according to a new report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

However, earthquake risk is slightly higher in some parts of the state than others, according to geologists at the Kansas Geological Survey and the University of Kansas, and the risk in some parts of the state may not have been fully studied.

The FEMA report, released September 20, defines risk according to the average annual amount of damage caused to buildings by earthquakes. Kansas ranked 45th among the nation's states in the amount of damage caused by earthquakes in an average year. The Kansas City, Missouri, area was ranked 35th among 35 major metropolitan areas.

The most earthquake-prone part of the state is north-central Kansas, particularly Riley and Pottawatomie counties. A series of faults called the Humboldt Fault Zone runs through this area, and extends to the south. The largest recorded earthquake in Kansas history occurred along this fault zone, near the town of Wamego, in 1867. The quake would have registered roughly 5.5 on the Richter Scale, was felt as far away as Dubuque, Iowa, and caused minor damage.

The FEMA report is based on an analysis of the likelihood of an earthquake in an area, along with the amount of damage earthquakes could do. The report estimates that the amount of damage from earthquakes in U.S. is about $4.4 billion in an average year. Of that, about 72 percent would be expected to occur in California.

"The FEMA report is a reasonable portrayal of the earthquake risk in Kansas," said Don W. Steeples, professor of geology at KU who measured and studied small earthquakes, or micro-earthquakes, in the state from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.

As part of an effort to better understand earthquake risk in north-central Kansas, geophysicist Steve Gao at the geology department at Kansas State University in Manhattan is currently studying small earthquakes in the Riley County area with an array of seismographs.

"The FEMA report serves as a reminder that earthquake risk is a reality," said Lee Allison, state geologist and director of the Kansas Geological Survey at KU. "It's also a reminder of the importance of learning as much as we can about the state's geology."

Story by Rex Buchanan, (785) 864-2106
For more information, contact Lee Allison, 785-864-2108

Links of interest and information on earthquakes in the central United States:

Kansas Geological Survey, Publications and Public Affairs