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5.1 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes NC

A 5.1 magnitude earthquake was felt across much of the western part of North Carolina on Sunday.
A 5.1 magnitude earthquake was felt across much of the western part of North Carolina on Sunday.

The U.S. Geological Survey says a 5.1 magnitude earthquake shook much of North Carolina just after 8 a.m. Sunday. No injuries were reported. 

A 5.1 magnitude earthquake was felt across much of the western part of North Carolina on Sunday.
Credit USGS
A 5.1 magnitude earthquake was felt across much of the western part of North Carolina on Sunday.

The epicenter is being placed about 100 miles north of Charlotte near the town of Sparta, and its tremors were reportedly felt by people across the state as well as in parts of Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia. 

Sparta is in Alleghany County just south of the North Carolina-Virginia border. 

The National Weather Service's Greenville-Spartanburg office reports that the quake is the strongest to strike North Carolina since 1916. 

The National Weather Service said it had gotten several reports of buildings shaking but, as of shortly after 9 a.m., no major damage had been reported. 

Sunday’s 5.1 magnitude earthquake was preceded by several smaller earthquakes known as foreshocks. According to the Geological Survey, at least five earthquakes ranging from 2.1 to 2.6 magnitude have rattled the town of Sparta since Saturday.

The area has experienced earthquakes before, but an earthquake as large as a 5.1 magnitude is a rare occurrence, partly because the region is so far away from any fault lines. Geophysicist Paul Caruso with the U.S. Geological Survey said the nearest faults are in Puerto Rico and the North Atlantic Ridge.

“It’s unusual,” Caruso said. “This is far away from a plate, but still, stresses and strains build up and eventually the rocks move to accommodate those stresses and strains.”

Pat Irwin, a dispatcher with the Alleghany County Sheriff’s Office, told WFAE she was just starting her day with the earthquake struck.

“I was sitting at the breakfast table eating breakfast and the house shook so bad that it dumped our coffee out of the coffee cup onto the table.”

She said she did not believe her house sustained any damage, but she quickly rushed to the sheriff’s office to help take calls. She said local residents have been bombarding the sheriff’s office with calls about earthquake damage since about 8:15 a.m.

“Chimneys down, roads have been buckled, there’s water damage,” she said. “They’ve got water coming into the businesses.”

North Carolina will likely feel aftershocks in the coming days, though geologists are unsure when or how large they might be.

“There’s a 4% chance of having something larger than a 5.1 in the next week, but there’s a 56% chance that we could have earthquakes in the magnitude 3 to 4 range,” Caruso said. “People would probably feel those, but they would be unlikely to cause damage.”

As of 11 a.m. Sunday, the Geological Survey had received reports from more than 56,000 people across the Southeast who say they felt the earthquake. 

The USGS is asking people who felt the quake to submit a report at USGS.gov. 

Copyright 2020 WFAE

WFAE's Nick de la Canal can be heard on public radio airwaves across the Charlotte region, bringing listeners the latest in local and regional news updates. He's been a part of the WFAE newsroom since 2013, when he began as an intern. His reporting helped the station earn an Edward R. Murrow award for breaking news coverage following the Keith Scott shooting and protests in September 2016. More recently, he's been reporting on food, culture, transportation, immigration, and even the paranormal on the FAQ City podcast. He grew up in Charlotte, graduated from Myers Park High, and received his degree in journalism from Emerson College in Boston. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal