A collapsed house in New Brighton in Christchurch, New Zealand.
A collapsed house in New Brighton in Christchurch, New Zealand. - 
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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Reports this morning are the number of deaths in New Zealand could top 400. That's after a powerful earthquake this week near the city of Christchurch. Now American engineers are descending on the country to measure damage. And more importantly, learn how to better protect buildings, sewers and the like against earthquakes in the United States.

But Marketplace's Eve Troeh asks, will those cities listen?

EVE TROEH: Richer nations like New Zealand tend to fare better in earthquakes than poorer ones. Brian Tucker is with the nonprofit Geohazards International. He says that's thanks to public funding.

BRIAN TUCKER: Research and development in how to improve the building code. Enacting the building code and then enforcing it through government agencies.

That doesn't take a lot of money, says Tucker. But governments have to make it a priority. And in places that haven't felt a quake in a long time -- like the mid-west, on the New Madrid fault -- reinforcing buildings isn't high on the list.

Tom Tobin at the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute says strapped local governments are thinking short-term, and earthquake readiness is a long-term issue.

TOM TOBIN: It requires a steady stream of funding, absolutely. Implementing a program over decades in order to make it work.

Tobin says U.S. roads, sewers and gas lines are already in bad shape. Cuts to ambulance service or emergency hotlines will mean cities can't respond as quickly to quakes.

In Los Angeles, I'm Eve Troeh, for Marketplace.

Follow Eve Troeh at @evetroeh