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Archive for Monday, December 3, 1990

PROFESSOR

December 3, 1990

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At this point, only Don Steeples' patience has been shaken by the prediction of a dramatic earthquake hitting the bootheel section of southeast Missouri.

"There's no doubt in my mind that it (the projection) is irresponsible and absurd," Steeples, a seismologist at the Kansas Geological Survey based at Kansas University, said today.

The epicenter of Steeples' disgust is Iben Browning, an Albuquerque, N.M., biologist who predicted a 50-50 chance of a Missouri quake hitting sometime between Saturday and Wednesday. Nothing was shaking in the area today.

Browning's forecast has drawn national media attention to the New Madrid area of Missouri. The New Madrid fault was the site of three strong earthquakes from 1811-1812.

THE CONTROVERSIAL prediction has sent phsychological tremors throughout the Midwest. Some people are storing food and water. Others have secured earthquake insurance for the first time.

Gerry McGuire, a Farm Bureau Insurance agent in Lawrence, said interest in earthquake insurance has been "unusually high." Earthquake policies cost about $20 a year, he said.

"The cost of the insurance is relatively inexpensive. Interest has been significant because people haven't been confronted with this situation before," McGuire said.

KU has instruments to measure the 7.5 to 8.5 (Richter scale) quake predicted by Browning. The chance of such a disaster occurring today was 1 in 10,000, Steeples said.

Steeples said that even if a major earthquake shook the New Madrid area, he was confident it would have little or no damaging effect in Kansas or western Missouri.

IN ADDITION, the National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council reported that Browning has a track record no better than one could obtain by throwing darts at a calendar.

"This whole thing is so ridiculous," Steeples said. "We have wasted the time of so many people. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable people children are psychologically affected the most."

Steeples said no benefit could be derived from putting students through earthquake drills at Lawrence area schools. The drills produce unnecessary stress, he said.

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