There were about 75 million Americans in 39 states living in earthquake zones 20 years ago. Today, that number has doubled to 150 million across all 50 states, meaning about half of all Americans are now at risk from potentially damaging shaking, the Los Angeles Times reports. About 143 million of those live in the Lower 48 states. At some point, some 28 million, mostly on the West Coast, will likely experience strong shaking that could cause moderate to extensive damage, according to a study from FEMA, the USGS, and the California Geological Survey, which cites "both the movement of the population to higher risk areas on the West Coast and a change in hazard assessments," a study author explains in a press release.
"We've always been told that we should be prepared. But this study puts some teeth into the recommendation," a seismologist says, per the AP. As the research avoided areas where oil and gas drilling has spawned small tremors, the number of people at risk could be even higher, a USGS researcher adds. The average annual cost of earthquakes in the Lower 48 is about $4.5 billion, with 80% of losses incurred in California, Oregon, and Washington. "While the West Coast may carry the larger burden of potential losses and the greatest threat from the strongest shaking, this report shows that the threat from earthquakes is widespread," the researcher says. The Rockies, Midwest, New England, and parts of the Southeast also face a higher risk. (And then there's Oklahoma.)