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Earthquakes Affecting Kentucky

Kentucky is affected by earthquakes from several seismic zones in and around the state. For a summary of the seismic hazard presented by these zones, mitigating the hazard, and preparing for it, see Earthquakes in Kentucky: Hazards, mitigation, and emergency preparedness

The most important seismic zone is the New Madrid Seismic Zone, in which at least three great earthquakes, each estimated to have been greater than magnitude 8 on the Richter scale, occurred from December 1811 to February 1812. Though the state was sparsely settled, these great earthquakes affected the whole Commonwealth of Kentucky . The following quotes are taken from newspaper articles published after the December 16, 1811, quake.

Frankfort . "About two o'clock on Sunday night was felt in this place a violent shock of an earthquake. It continued for several minutes and produced a considerable vibration of houses. Some bricks are said to have fell from the top of the court house chimney" (The American Republic, Frankfort , Ky. ).

Henderson . "A severe shock of an earthquake was felt at this place on the 16th inst. At half past 2 o'clock, A.M. -- many chimneys were cracked by the motion; -- and at sun-rise another shock threw down most of the chimneys so injured" (The Weekly Register-Chronicle, Washington , D.C. ).

Lexington . "About half after two o'clock, yesterday morning, a severe shock of an earthquake was felt at this place: the earth vibrated two or three times in a second, which continued for several minutes, and so great was the shaking that the windows were agitated equal to what they would have been in a hard gust of wind" (Kentucky Gazette, Lexington, Ky.).

Louisville . "On Monday morning the 16th instant, this place was visited by a most alarming Earthquake. . . . We are induced to believe, the continuation was from 4 to 6 minutes, though some say it was not so long; -- about an hour afterwards, another shock was felt; and a little after sunrise, a third, which broke off several chimneys, and injured some houses otherwise" (Poulson's American Daily Advertiser, Philadelphia, Pa.).

The map below shows the Modified Mercalli intensity for the first event of the 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquakes.

Also, an earthquake measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale occurred in 1980 near Sharpsburg in Bath County and caused an estimated $3 million in damage; 269 homes and 37 businesses in nearby Maysville were damaged.

Thus, earthquakes pose high seismic hazards and risk to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. A preliminary estimate by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of annual earthquake loss in Kentucky is about $18.7 million.