Aftershocks Forecast After Strongest Earthquake Hits N.C. in Over 100 Years

North Carolina

North Carolina Dept. of Environmental Quality North Carolina's areas of seismic activity.

A 5.1 magnitude earthquake shook the border region of North Carolina near Virginia Sunday morning, the strongest earthquake in the state since 1916, according to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

The USGS confirmed the quake Sunday morning near Sparta, N.C.

Some may be surprised to learn that earthquakes are not uncommon in the state, but they are usually low magnitude. According to the NCDEQ, earthquakes in North Carolina are usually seen in the western part of the state but they can happen throughout North Carolina.

The NCDEQ reports, “It is very important to realize that even though North Carolina and the east coast of the United States experience occasional earthquakes, this area is not a seismically active area like California and the West Coast. In California, there are many active faults where large, damaging earthquakes occur frequently. In contrast, there are no active fault zones in North Carolina.”

Randy Baldwin, a geophysicist with the National Earthquake Information Center in Colorado told The News & Observer Sunday morning the reason earthquakes are seen in North Carolina and in parts of the east is because of the old faultlines under the mountains that occasionally still shift.

“They are old mountains,” Baldwin said. “They were formed a long time ago by faulting. And these faults … they get reactivated every now and again. The stresses build up and reactivate some of these old faults.”

In the 1916 earthquake descriptions of damage from the earthquake include “Chimneys were thrown to the ground, windowpanes cracked and people rushed into the streets,” according to the NCDEQ.

WXII says something similar happened in Sunday morning’s earthquakes, with reports of “cracked basements and foundations, fallen chimneys, cracked roads, fallen items and at least one closed road.”

There are no initial reports of serious injury or death.

Aftershocks Are Likely & The USGS Has Forecast the Odds of What People in the Area Can Expect

Aftershocks are common after earthquakes and are also considered part of an earthquake sequence, with mainshocks being the initial phenomenon and aftershocks being a continuation of the mainshock. In situations of earthquakes that reach a 5 or more magnitude, the USGS predicts what may happen next.

In the case of the Sparta quake, they forecast:

Over the next 1 Week there is a 4% chance of one or more aftershocks that are larger than magnitude 5.1. It is likely that there will be smaller earthquakes over the next 1 Week, with 0 to 54 magnitude 3 or higher aftershocks. Magnitude 3 and above are large enough to be felt near the epicenter. The number of aftershocks will drop off over time, but a large aftershock can increase the numbers again, temporarily.

Aftershocks can last for days, weeks, months or even years. They can sometimes be worse than the initial shock, and can cause significant damage, injury and death, but the USGS acknowledges that forecasting aftershocks is not a perfect science, saying, “No one can predict the exact time or place of any earthquake, including aftershocks.”

Yet they say they say they base their calculations of statistical analysis from past earthquakes.

North Carolina’s Older Buildings Were Not Built to Withstand Earthquakes but as the State Grows New Construction Follows Codes That Make Buildings Safer In Case of Earthquakes

North Carolina

GettyBuildings are seen damaged from winds and heavy rain from Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina on September 14, 2018.

According to the NCDEQ newer construction in the state is built with earthquakes in mind, but older buildings that still exist were not built to “withstand violent shaking.” Earthquakes with a magnitude 5 or higher can “block major transportation routes in the mountains and cause structural damage elsewhere.”

The USCG says that some of that damage could be lurking in your home, so after you check for injuries and prioritize that everyone is okay, the next things people should check is gas lines around their homes and turn off the gas if a leak is suspected; check for any fires that may have started, check for electrical wiring damage and shut off breakers if there is a danger to home wiring, watch out for downed utility lines.

According to the NCDEQ, the larger earthquakes experienced in the state happened when it was more rural, but as the state continues development Recent development includes buildings and infrastructure such as road and power networks. Modern building codes take into account the possibility of an earthquake but many older buildings were not constructed to withstand violent shaking.

If You Are In An Earthquake The Best Thing to Do Is Drop, Cover & Hold On


Dept. of Homeland Security

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the best way to stay safe in an Earthquake is to drop to your hands and knees, cover your head and body as much as possible with either your arms and hands or get underneath a sturdy table if possible. If not go next to an interior wall that does not have windows and stay on your knees or bent over to protect vital organs, and if possible, hold on to something secure.

Of course, it’s impossible to predict where you’ll be when the earth literally shakes, so the agency has other tips:

If an earthquake happens, protect yourself right away.

  • If you are in a car, pull over and stop. Set your parking brake.
  • If you are in bed, turn face down and cover your head and neck with a pillow.
  • If you are outdoors, stay outdoors away from buildings.
  • Do not get in a doorway.
  • Do not run outside.

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