Earthquakes in Eastern NC: Can it happen here?

North Carolina may not be as immune as you think regarding to Earthquakes
Published: Dec. 28, 2022 at 5:36 PM EST
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - When we think of earthquakes, the first place in mind is the West Coast of the US such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and even Seattle. However, earthquakes can happen even in Eastern NC but it is not that simple. Since 1735, earthquakes have impacted the Tar Heel State a total of 22 times with the most recent significant earthquake last occurring in 2011.

For a significant earthquake to happen in NC, most events need to happen along a fault, also known as a ruptured crack in the ground caused by tectonic plates. The most intense earthquakes to ever rock the state originated from two main areas: 1. the New Madrid Fault Zone and 2. the Summerville Fault Zone.

The New Madrid Fault Zone is located Southeastern Missouri and Western Tennessee near Memphis. The fault was largely responsible for the major earthquakes along the Southeast US. The Summerville Fault Zone located in Eastern South Carolina was largely responsible for the 1886 Charleston Earthquake.

If both seismic faults are located in outside of Eastern NC, then why do experience earthquakes here?

Earthquakes east of the Mississippi River occur in shallow elevation depths. This means that the earthquake’s epicenter is located near the surface, rather than further in the ground, which means that the violent effects from the earthquake can be felt at the surface, and several miles away from the epicenter. Changes in elevations and topographic differences can greatly impact the distance of how far the effects of an earthquake can be felt.

Eastern NC is located close enough to several seismic faults zones that should a major earthquake occur at any point, we can feel the impacts here in NC. In August 2011, a magnitude 5.5 earthquake occurred in Mineral, VA causing extensive damage to Washington, DC and Richmond. With the earthquake occurring at a shallow depth, the effects were felt as far north as New York as far south as Miami.

How frequent are earthquakes and how can we prepare for them?

The chance of a severe earthquake in Eastern NC is low but not zero, as for an average earthquake the chance is fairly moderate. According to the North Carolina Geologic Survey, the best way to prepare is by showing scenarios of what could happen to a community during an earthquake including first responder efforts. Unfortunately, there is no warning or watch that can be issued prior to an earthquake. The best course of action during an earthquake is to get under a work bench, table or anything sturdy to reduce the impact of the event. After a quake, be prepared for the potential risks of fires and water main breaks. In low lying areas, liquefaction can occur. Communications could be disrupted for hours up to several days so it is best to ensure that you remain calm and follow the guidelines of emergency officials.

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