Four federal agencies, saying that most of the nation, not just the West, can be hit by earthquakes, have sent Congress a five-year, $363 million plan for limiting quake damage and loss of life.

In this century alone, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said, earthquakes in the United States have claimed 1,380 lives and caused more than $5 billion in property damage.

"Damaging earthquakes have occurred in almost every region of the country," the agency said. "The population of 44 states and territories, with a total population of well over 70 million people, is at risk from moderate to severe earthquakes."

In fact, Samuel Speck of the agency told a news conference, earthquakes in the eastern United States tend to cause damage in much larger areas than those in the West.

"We're talking about an earthquake which would impact on some 21 states," he said. "If it was of the magnitude of a series of earthquakes that took place in 1811-1812 [in New Madrid, Mo.] it could affect some 12 million people and cause property damage estimated at some $50 billion."

The plan envisions spending $363 million for earthquake prediction research, assessment of earthquake hazards, research in design of structures and developing codes for construction, preparations for disasters and studies into the causes of earthquakes.

Besides FEMA, the agencies involved are the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Science Foundation and the National Bureau of Standards.

They propose to spend $70 million in this and the next fiscal year and slightly more in the following three years.

Asked whether the federal budget could support such an effort now, Richard N. Wright, of the National Bureau of Standards, said, "We have to understand it; we have to develop cost-effective ways to deal with it. It doesn't seem to us who have been involved in the program that it would be to the public benefit to ignore the risks and to take our losses when it hits."