© US Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Bob Nations, Jr., the Director of Shelby County Office of Preparedness, says that since the lack of preparation exposed by Hurricane Katrina, he is "preparing for the catastrophic event" in his six-county jurisdiction.

Nations admitted that after a major quake, Tennessee's infrastructure and response capabilities "would get overwhelmed fairly quickly."

There are 15 nuclear power plants in the New Madrid fault zone -- three reactors in Alabama -- that are of the same or similar design as the site in Japan experiencing problems.

The USGS report predicts that a major quake would create horrific scenes like something out of a science fiction movie, potentially cutting the Eastern part of the country off from the West in terms of vehicular traffic and road commerce.

"The older highways and railroad bridges that cross the Mississippi River, as well as older overpasses, would likely be damaged or collapse in the event of a major New Madrid earthquake," according to USGS.

In September, FEMA's associate administrator for Response and Recovery, William Carwile, told a Senate panel that FEMA has five regional groups planning for possible earthquake responses, but a major quake along the New Madrid fault line could displace 7.2 million people and knock out 15 bridges. The response would require 42,000 first responders from local firefighters to the Pentagon.

Another study by the Mid-America Earthquake Center last year estimates that nearly 750,000 buildings would be damaged, 3,000 bridges would potentially collapse, 400,000 breaks and leaks to local pipelines and $300 billion in direct damage and $600 billion in indirect losses would occur. Source