For some reason, there are certain areas on the United States, and the world, where earthquakes are…unexpected. There are just no real fault lines in these places, and no man-made reasons for it, like mining or drilling. So often people think they live in an area that is completely safe from an earthquake. Nevertheless, that does not mean that an earthquake can’t happen, as the people of Charleston, South Carolina found out on August 31, 1886.
The first indicator that something strange was going on, came on August 27 and 28, when foreshocks were felt in Summerville, South Carolina, where my first cousin once removed, Stephanie Willard and her family live. While the tremors were odd, the people of the area didn’t think they were a warning for what was coming. Then, at 9:51pm on August 31, the rumbling began. The 7.6 magnitude quake was felt as far away as Boston, Chicago and Cuba. Buildings as far away as far away as Ohio and Alabama were damaged. But, it was Charleston, South Carolina, that took the biggest hit from the quake. Almost all of the buildings in town were seriously damaged. About 14,000 chimneys fell from the earthquake’s shaking. It caused multiple fires, and water lines and wells were ruptured. The total damage was in excess of $5.5 million, which would be about $112 million today.
While that was a disaster in itself, it was the loss of life that was felt the worst. More that 100 people lost their lives that fateful day, and countless others were injured, in what is still the largest recorded earthquake in the history of the southeastern United States. The quake damaged as many as 2,000 buildings, including buildings as far away as central Alabama, central Ohio, eastern Kentucky, southern Virginia and western West Virginia. The strange part about this quake is the fact that there were no apparent surface cracks as a result of this tremor, railroad tracks were bent in all directions in some locations. Acres of land were liquefied. This quake remained a mystery for many years since there were no known underground faults for 60 miles in any direction. Then, as science and detection methods got better, scientists have recently uncovered a concealed fault along the coastal plains of Virginia and the Carolinas. While this fault is now known, scientists think that another quake of this magnitude remains highly unlikely, though not impossible, in this location.
I guess I don’t quite understand that concept, except to say that if it is the only fault and has nothing to connect to, maybe there is less chance of a small tremor turning into a big quake, and maybe that is why they don’t expect another quake of that magnitude. Still, it is always good advise to realize that no place is immune to earthquakes. Oklahoma has found that out in recent years, as underground mining work has created quake situations that weren’t there before. It is still my hope that the Charleston area never has another quake like the one they had in 1886.