The U.S. Geological Survey confirmed a 5.1 magnitude earthquake Sunday morning, with an epicenter in Sparta, NC., and ripples felt as far away as Raleigh.
Sunday’s earthquake is the largest in North Carolina since 1916, when a 5.2 magnitude quake hit Skyland in Buncombe County.
The earthquake happened at 8:07 a.m. on the border of North Carolina and Virginia near the town of Sparta, said Randy Baldwin, a geophysicist with the National Earthquake Information Center in Colorado.
“This earthquake was a magnitude of 5.1 on a 10-point scale,” Baldwin told The News & Observer Sunday morning. “The information center received more than 6,000 of reports of the earthquake in a 200-mile radius that touches seven states.”
Callie Carson was making biscuits and eggs in a 27-foot camper on her farm in the Piney Creek community, which is just west of Sparta in Allegany County.
The farm is about five miles from the earthquake’s epicenter.
Carson was telling her 2-year-old son not to drink the jam as the entire camper started to rumble, she said.
Carson, 37, a field representative for the N.C. Farm Bureau Federation, lives in Taylorsville, but her husband and two children often spend the weekend on their 180-acre farm.
The movement felt like experiencing choppy waves while riding in a small boat versus what she expected, which had been more like someone shaking up a box.
“It was kind of unnerving,” she said.
At first she thought the barn that they camp beside was falling in, she said.
Then she thought it must be a dump truck driving up their gravel road, she said. Next, she thought the camper was rolling down a hill.
Her husband, who was still in bed, asked if the boys were jumping in the camper. Then he ran outside and the couple realized the shaking was occurring on solid ground.
“My husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘Was that an earthquake?’” she said.
“There is no way there was an earthquake up here. That’s just not logical,” she said. “2020 has defied all innate logic, so why not an earthquake. Why not.”
The earthquake, which lasted about 10 seconds or so, rattled the dishes Carson set out and opened one cabinet, but they haven’t found any damage after checking cows and fences.
Carson spoke to her two brothers and mom, who live in Ashe County. They felt the earthquake, but none reported damage, Carson said.
Carson’s sister, Megan Lyon, 36, lives in the community of Ennice which is east of Sparta and about 10 miles away from the epicenter of the earthquake.
The earthquake woke Lyon up, she said, and she thought her 11-year-old son was shaking the bed until he came running into the bedroom. Then she realized it was likely earthquake, as some had reported the day before.
Lyon said it felt like she was standing right next to a train track as the train rattles by on the tracks.
“We found a few things had fallen off some shelves,” Lyon said. “That was all we had.”
Chad Tucker, a journalist with WGHP, a Fox affiliate in Greensboro, tweeted photos of damage from inside a home in Sparta. Cabinet doors stood open and glassware was shown shattered on the floor in multiple rooms of the home.
Be prepared for aftershocks
“There is a good chance there will be aftershocks,” Baldwin said, which can sometimes continue for a week or two and generally diminish over time.
The chance of an earthquake with a magnitude of 3 or higher is 58% and one that is 5 or higher is 5%, according to the USGS. The chance of one with a magnitude of 6 or higher is 1 in 200, according to the USGS.
Over the past day there were several foreshocks that were smaller and felt within 15 miles of where the earthquake occurred. An earthquake with a magnitude of 2.6 was reported around 2 a.m. in the Sparta area, according to the USGS.
“Now you get earthquakes all the time,” he said. “You get them anywhere and you get them fairly frequently in the southeast margins of the mountains there.
“Earthquakes are common, but getting the sizable ones are not quite as common,” Baldwin said.
There was a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in Louisa, Virginia, in 2011; and 4.2 magnitude in eastern Kentucky in 2012.
The Virginia earthquake was the largest to shake the eastern U.S. since 1944, according to the N.C. Geological Survey report. There were reports of minor injuries, power outages, and $15 million in minor and major private property damage.
Earthquakes occurred in North Carolina 22 times between 1735 and 2014, according to the report.
What causes an earthquake?
In general, an earthquake occurs when two blocks of the Earth suddenly slip past one another, according to the USGS. The area where the slip occurs is called the fault.
Sometimes an earthquake’s mainshock, the main earthquake, is preceded by foreshocks and followed by aftershocks.
Regarding Sunday’s earthquake, Baldwin pointed to the aging mountains along the Appalachian front.
“They are old mountains,” Baldwin said. “They were formed a long time ago by faulting. And these faults … they get reactivated every now and again. The stresses build up and reactivate some of these old faults.”
A 5.1 magnitude earthquake is considered a mild to moderate earthquake, strong enough to cause minor damage to buildings and other structures.
The National Weather Service started receiving reports from downtown Raleigh, Cary, Southern Pines and Aberdeen, around 8:08 Sunday morning, said James Danco, a meteorologist.
(This is a developing story that will be updated as more information is available.)