SPARTA, N.C. — The most powerful earthquake to hit North Carolina in more than 100 years shook much of the state early Sunday, rattling homes, businesses and residents.
The 5.1 magnitude earthquake happened in Sparta, about 100 miles north of Charlotte, just after 8 a.m. following a much smaller quake several hours earlier.
The earthquake was preceded by at least five small foreshocks ranging from magnitudes 1.9 to 2.6, beginning about 25 hours prior to the main earthquake, according to geologists.
Alleghany County, the epicenter of the earthquake, is now in a state of emergency. Crews were out assessing damages to homes in that area. On Monday, state insurance commissioner Mike Causey surveyed the damage in the Sparta area.
Monday morning, our partners at WTVD toured the epicenter of the earthquake, discovering several homes that were damaged. Some homes had destroyed chimneys with one caving into the home’s living room.
Sparta Mayor Wes Brinegar issued a state of emergency to get state and federal support for structural damages. Sparta is a town of approximately 1,700 people.
It was determined the earthquake happened as a result of an “oblique-reverse fault.” The United States Geological Survey said these form when compressional forces cause a fault plane to move up and sideways.
Several aftershocks have been felt in the Sparta area since the initial quake. USGS records show that six aftershocks, beginning at 11:45 Sunday night, were recorded. All of them were 2.2 magnitude or less, which usually don’t cause damage and aren’t strong enough for most people to notice.
On Monday morning, one of those was felt just after 6 a.m. According to the USGS -- a 2.2 magnitude tremor was recorded about 4 miles east-southeast of Sparta. There were no immediate reports of any damage.
The aftershocks ranged from 1.7 to 2.2. in magnitude:
- M 1.8 (11:45 p.m. Sunday)
- M 1.7 (11:58 p.m. Sunday)
- M 2.0 (2:05 a.m. Monday)
- M 2.2 (4:43 a.m. Monday)
- M 2.2 (7:10 a.m. Monday)
- M 2.2 (5:50 a.m. Tuesday)
The USGS said after a magnitude 3 or higher there is 57% chance for more aftershocks, which means “as few as zero or as many as 57 if sequence is re-invigorated by a larger aftershock” compared to a magnitude 5 or higher, which has 5% chance.
According to emergency services, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake has the ability to cause damage to buildings with “good design and construction; slight-to-moderate in well-build ordinary structures; considerable damage in poorly built or badly designed structures.”
According to our team of meteorologists, this type of event is rare for the area. Geophysicist Paul Caruso said the quake was about 6 miles underground, which is why so many people across the Carolinas felt it.
“That will change how people feel the earthquake,” Caruso said. “Shallow earthquakes are felt more strongly. Deep earthquakes are felt less because they’re farther underground. So, the energy is sort of dissipated as it moves toward the surface.”
Officials told Channel 9 anchor Blaine Tolison the quake was also one of the strongest in the state’s history.
Since 1735, the USGS said the North Carolina region has experienced 22 earthquakes with enough magnitudes to cause damage. The most recent being in 1981 in Henderson County.
“The greatest damage was in 1861 in Wilkesboro,” Caruso said. “We have earthquakes in all states. This is a large earthquake for that area, but we wouldn’t expect to have any significant damage.”
Thousands of people across the region from Charlotte to Rock Hill to Belmont called, emailed and tweeted saying they felt it Sunday morning.
Officials said more than 89,000 reports of people who said they felt the earthquake came into the USGS. It was felt in nearby states including Virginia, South Carolina and Tennessee.
No injuries or damage have been reported across the Charlotte area from the quake.
In Sparta, dozens of residents and business owners reported damage though. Eyewitness News anchor Susanna Black spoke with Jennifer Riglin who lives about a mile from where the quake was detected.
She said it rattled her and her husband out of bed and it took a moment for them to realize what was happening.
“I started screaming because I was scared and everything was falling off the wall and breaking and my husband was telling me ‘It’s okay, it’s okay,‘” Riglin said. “He got up and he looked around the house and he said ‘Oh my gosh’ and then I knew the house was destroyed.”
Mikey Whitt works for Pepsi and was making a delivery at a Food Lion in Sparta when the earthquake began. He shared photos of the damage inside the store, where you could see aisles where dozens of cans and sodas bottles had fallen off the shelves.
In another part of the store, you could see where the roof panels fell, exposing the ductwork.
No injuries were reported.
Michael Hull told the Associated Press he was standing in his driveway at his home in Sparta when he noticed a group of deer running.
“Not even a minute passed and the side-to-side motion started,” Hull said. “It takes you a minute to realize what’s happening, and you just can’t believe it. Then it was over. It was loud, like God was shaking a mountain at you, literally.”
Karen Backer was in her Greensboro apartment when she heard something she mistook as banging in her kitchen as her roommate, according to the AP.
“Nope, it was the cabinet doors ‘clinking’ open and closed! My neighbors on the other hand said they felt our apartment building shaking,” Backer said. “Well, sadly, nothing surprises me in 2020, but a hurricane and an earthquake in the same week is crazy.”
The Alleghany County Sheriff’s Office told Channel 9 they received dozens of calls, but couldn’t put a number on how many.
They said deputies responded to several water main breaks, structure damage throughout the county as well as reports of roads starting to collapse.
>> Watch the video below as Channel 9′s Gina Esposito spoke with several residents across the Charlotte area who woke up to it Sunday morning, including one woman who says she is no stranger to earthquakes.
Cox Media Group