‘Widespread Destruction and Panic’ Anticipated After Major Earthquake in Oklahoma

  • Joe Wertz

An earthquake “swarm” has been rattling Oklahoma since 2009. Most of the shaking has been small, but the phenomenon has left many Oklahomans feeling uneasy.

The rash of quakes, which many seismologists say is likely linked to disposal wells the oil and gas industry use to inject waste fluid deep underground, is raising questions about how the state’s emergency authorities would respond to a “major” quake. As The Oklahoman‘s Adam Kemp reports, the state is “woefully unprepared”:

At magnitude 6.6 or greater, the state plan anticipates widespread destruction and panic. Should there be a breach of the 70-year-old Lake Hefner dam, water would flow northeast, flooding homes, commercial buildings and Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City before reaching the Cimarron River on the north side of Guthrie. Even a small earthquake in the right location could cause a dam to begin leaking and eventually fail, according to the state plan.

Despite the scary potential, emergency officials say such an earthquake is unlikely, the paper reports:

On its list of disaster priorities, Oklahoma ranks earthquakes at No. 11, behind tornadoes, winter storms, sink holes, flooding, wildfires, high winds, drought, thunderstorms, lightning and extreme heat.

But the state is updating its plan:

Oklahoma Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Kelly Cain says a new state disaster mitigation plan is in the works. The state last published a plan in June 2010, just as the recent swarm of about 6,000 earthquakes — half in the Oklahoma City area — began.