A major, destructive earthquake a threat popularly associated with California - is almost certain to strike somewhere in the eastern United States before the year 2010, an expert told a Senate panel Friday.

The quake hazard east of the Rockies is compounded by the fact that seismic tremors in the East generally cause wider damage than in the West, said Robert Ketter, director of the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research.However, Utah ranks among other places considered potential sites for major seismic disruptions in the future. Besides Utah, they are the St. Lawrence River area, the New York-Boston corridor and parts of South Carolina and Virginia, Ketter said.

Ketter's testimony underscored a major theme that he and others stressed at a hearing before a Senate Commerce subcommittee - that earthquakes are a national concern.

The hearing was called to consider a bill introduced by Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., that would restructure a 12-year-old federal program designed to foster research on earthquakes and methods of minimizing and recovering from their effects.

"The earthquake threat is now recognized to be a national consequence," Cranston said. "We've (previously) had more concern in the West because we've had more quakes there and more damage in modern times."

Cranston said 39 states, with a population of more than 70 million people, live in areas considered to have a "high to moderate risk" for earthquake damage.

Ketter said quakes have been felt at one time or another in virtually every state in the union.

"The only place where we have no record of anyone feeling anything is in North Dakota," he said.

To illustrate his point, Ketter cited probability studies that show a 75 percent to 95 percent chance of a major, destructive earthquake occurring somewhere in the eastern United States before the turn of the century.

The probability of such a quake striking the East before the year 2010 is nearly 100 percent, he said.

One region considered by geologists to be highly vulnerable to a major quake in the next few decades is an area of the Mississippi Valley lying along the New Madrid fault - including Memphis, Tenn.

That area was jolted in 1811 and 1812 by a series of tremors centered near New Madrid, Mo., and believed to be about the same magnitude as the great quake that devastated San Francisco in 1906.