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The hazard in the New Madrid Seismic Zone results mostly from the weak alluvium of the Mississippi Embayment. Due to the large quantity of sediments, the intensity of the shaking is very large and wide-spread. As seen you can see in the figure below, an earthquake in the NMSZ of the same magnitude as in California, would affect a much larger area. (Image links to original article)
In 1811 and 1812 the New Madrid fault suffered a series of catastrophic earthquakes that caused enormous damage and loss of life.
Earthquakes that occur in the Mew Madrid Seismic Zone potentially threaten parts of seven American states: Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. Because of the large region that a New Madrid earthquake would affect, the USGS ranks the region as a high hazard.
There is much debate about the magnitude of the 1811/1812 earthquakes and there are ‘official’ views and views of those who believe that the seriousness of those earthquakes has been played down by the authorities.