When I was young, I saw a couple of movies about earthquakes in California. One of them was certainly "The Big One," as I remember Joanna Kerns. Living in New Jersey,I never really worried much about earthquakes. However, I still remember one scene from the movie when two women (IMDB says a mother and a daughter) are trapped in an elevator. As they are being rescued, the mother tells the daughter to climb out first. As the mother is about to be saved, the elevator's cable breaks and she plunges to her death as her daughter and a firefighter look on in horror.
While I no longer worry about the relative strength of elevator cables, Dennis Smith's New York Times article "When Nature's Wrath Is History's Reminder" has managed to make me worried about earthquakes. The story of the New Madrid earthquake, which devastated the Mississippi River valley in 1811, was new to me. The USGS page linked above contains a sobering report of a potential earthquake's aftermath:
Although damage to buildings located outside of the immediate earthquake zone would be mostly nonstructural in character, the monetary amount should be expected to be very large. The emotional and psychological effects of a large earthquake in the central part of the country would probably also be considerable, particularly if the earthquake had a long aftershock pattern as the 1811-12 sequence did.
Perhaps the greatest danger of all arises from the sense of complacency, or perhaps total ignorance, about the potential threat of a large earthquake.
Since tsunamis are created in proportion to the amount of land that has fallen into the water, this event would likely create a wave mass never before known to written history, many times bigger than the wave at Lituya Bay. The wave would diminish a little as it crossed the Atlantic, but if it hit the Atlantic Seaboard it could be higher than the skyscrapers of Boston, New York, Washington and Miami.