New York, Boston, Memphis, and St. Louis are among the places at risk for damage and loss caused by quakes.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt said that while the chance of being in an earthquake remained fairly constant over the years, the risk of damage has increased substantially.
"That's because of the increase of urban development in high seismic hazard areas and the vulnerability of older buildings, which were not built to adequate seismic code," he said.
In addition to California metropolitan areas, cities facing the highest potential losses include the following, according to the report being released Wednesday at the National Earthquake Risk Management Conference in Seattle.
- Portland, Ore.
- New York
- Salt Lake City
- St. Louis
- Tacoma, Wash.
- Las Vegas
- Anchorage, Alaska
- Reno, Nev.
- Memphis, Tenn.
- Charleston, S.C.
- Newark, N.J.
Still, the report anticipates that the vast majority of future damage will be in California because of that state's combination of high seismic hazard and high economic exposure. That combination also applies to Seattle and Portland, according to the study.
"Understanding the scope and complexity of potential earthquake damage in a community provides the foundation for planning, zoning, building codes and regulating development in a way to reduce earthquake risk," Witt said.
He said the loss estimation system is the first of its kind using probability rather than depending only on historical data to estimate future losses.
"FEMA plans to expand the methodology and develop new models for estimating potential losses for other natural disasters as well, including high wind events and coastal and riverine flooding," he said.
The FEMA study estimates the nation's annual earthquake property damage losses at about $4.4 billion. That compares to annual flood losses of $5.2 billion between 1989 to 1998, according to National Weather Service data. The National Climatic Data Center estimates $5.4 billion in annual hurricane losses for that period.
Of the estimated $4.4 billion in annual damage, some $3.26 billion is attributed to California. The study did not seek to estimate deaths and injuries from quakes.
In recent years, earthquakes have become most closely associated with California because of the widely reported damaging tremors there.
But two temblors that vie for recognition as the most powerful quakes felt in North America struck elsewhere. One rocked the New Madrid Fault in Missouri, near its border with Tennessee, in a series of quakes in 1811-12, while the second devastated the Anchorage area in 1964.
The New Madrid quake reportedly caused the Mississippi River to flow backward for a time but there were few people or buildings in the area at the time. Today the same quake could severely damage the area from St. Louis to Memphis.
©2000 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed