SC urges quake preparations

Historic 1886 earthquake killed 60, damaged at least 2,000 homes.

BY VICKI DESORMIER | CHARLESTON, SC | November 12, 2008


More than 2,000 buildings like these were destroyed in the deadly 1886 South Carolina earthquake.
Credit: USGS

Little was left of this brick home in Charleston, SC, following the historic 1886 earthquake.
Credit: USGS

When one thinks of earthquakes, one generally thinks of the U. S. West Coast. However, in 1886, the strongest earthquake ever recorded in the Southeastern U.S. struck Charleston, SC, damaging or destroying approximately 2,000 buildings and killing at least 60 people. The temblor caused damage as far away as central Ohio and was felt up and down the eastern seaboard.

With that history in mind, South Carolina’s Emergency Management Division held its annual earthquake preparedness drill on Wednesday morning. The state encourages people to prepare for an earthquake by putting together an emergency kit, much like the ones people put together for a hurricane, fire or other emergency.

"They need to have food, a first aid kit, medicines, tools and clothing that are ready to go in case of an earthquake," said Derrec Becker. "We want people to check their homes to be sure things are secure and that they have a plan for where they will go and what they will do will do if an earthquake occurs."

Planning and preparation are the keys to surviving in any emergency, he said. For earthquakes, it is no different. If one has a plan, he said, the chances of surviving are much higher.

In South Carolina this week, municipal and state governments will be cooperating to make sure every agency is ready for an earthquake emergency as well.

State Superintendent of Education, Jim Rex, has encouraged schools statewide to participate in the drill. Many nursing homes, hospitals, county and municipal agencies, and amateur radio operators also participated. This week's drill was designed to test the information-dissemination system for earthquake warnings, and it gives participants the opportunity to test their individual household safety plans as well.

Because it has been nearly four decades since the last strong earthquake struck South Carolina, Becker said some people might not think about the potential of such a disaster, but the danger is real and the state is hoping to keep it in the forefront of people's minds by holding the annual drill to test the ability to get such warnings out to the public.

According to Mark Peterson of the US Geological Survey, the Charleston, SC, area has one of the highest risks in the country, equal to that in coastal California and in Hawaii. He said most people outside of the area rarely associate South Carolina with such seismic activity, but to long-time residents, it is something for which they prepare in the way Gulf Coast residents prepare for hurricanes.

Moderate earthquakes awakened many residents at Anderson in 1958, and caused minor damage in Chesterfield in 1959. Another shock in 1964, was felt strongly in Gaston and Jenkinsville. Places in Fairfield, Florence, Lexington, and Richland Counties also reported the tremors. Several windows were broken in Bowman and Orangeburg from a magnitude 3.4 earthquake in the spring of 1971. Most recently, two small shocks, about 3 hours apart, were felt in western South Carolina in July of 1971.

The most recent earthquakes caused only minor damage, such as items falling from shelves and breaking and minor cracks in walls of homes. The amount of time since the last earthquake and the minor nature of that tremor don't diminish the chances that more or stronger quakes will not occur in the state, Peterson said.

According to prognosticators working with the US Geological Survey, there is a less than three percent chance of an earthquake in the South Carolina area in the next five years. That number increases to more than five percent in 10 years and nine percent in the next decade and a half.

"The numbers may seem small, but they are increasing and you don't want to gamble with any of those figures," Becker said.

The South Carolina Division of Emergency Management gives Earthquake preparedness very high priority, he said. Each year, they dedicate a year to earthquake preparation checks. This year, they are working on educational programs that will be presented across South Carolina with their co-sponsors at the College of Charleston, the South Carolina Earthquake Education Program and the National Weather Service.

"We want to get the word out that this is something to be taken seriously," Becker said.


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Related Links:

US Geological Survey

South Carolina Earthquake Guide

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