Update: 3.2 quake in Edgefield Sunday

sfretwell@thestate.comFebruary 15, 2014 

4.1 earthquake as measured at the Hawthorne Fire Tower in Aiken County, South Carolina

— A 3.2 earthquake was reported in Edgefield County Sunday afternoon at 3:23 p.m. 

There were no immediate reports of damage, and none were expected.

"I'd be surprised if anybody even felt this one," said Derrec Becker, spokesman for the S.C. Emergency Management Division.

A few people living near the epicenter reported on the National Weather Service Columbia Facebook page that they felt it.

A 3.2 is mild on the earthquake scale, where 10 means mass destruction and a 3 is not very noticeable. 

Becker said South Carolina averages 15-20 earthquakes a year.

"This is normal for us," Becker said. "This is the 14th earthquake in the last 12 months."

Unlike hurricanes or snow storms, there is no way to forecast when an earthquake might happen.

"Despite all our technology in 2014, there is no way to tell when an earthquake might happen," Becker said.

EARLIER: The largest earthquake to hit South Carolina in more than a decade left the state abuzz Saturday, as people continued to recount tales of shaking beds, falling books and ear-splitting sounds.

But authorities said the Palmetto State escaped virtually intact from Friday night’s earthquake after a week of snowy, icy weather.

Inspectors were reporting no damage to the state’s major bridges, overpasses, hydroelectric dams and nuclear power plants. Government agencies and utilities spent much of Saturday checking for earthquake-related problems.

“No injuries, no reports of damage,” said Derrec Becker, a spokesman for the S.C. Emergency Management Division. “The only lingering threat is that South Carolina is an earthquake-prone state and these things cannot be predicted.”

Becker said emergency officials had received no reports of aftershocks Saturday.

The earthquake, a 4.1-magnitude event centered near Edgefield, was larger than any in South Carolina since a 4.4-rated quake hit the Charleston area in 2002 and the second most intense since 1950. The biggest recorded earthquake in state history was an 1886 quake, which registered 7.3. It was also in the Charleston area.

This year’s Valentine’s Day earthquake occurred just before 10:30 p.m. Friday, awakening some folks and startling most who reported loud booming noises and trembling buildings.

People across much of South Carolina reported feeling the quake, which some said shook their homes for 5 seconds or more. Residents as far away as Hickory, N.C., and Atlanta also reported feeling the shock.

The S.C. Department of Transportation reported Saturday evening that its inspectors had found no problems at bridges near the epicenter and at nearby lakes and rivers. The Interstate 20 Savannah River bridges are owned and maintained by Georgia’s DOT. South Carolina and Georgia officials are coordinating their responses, S.C. authorities said.

Inspectors also checked nuclear power plants in Oconee, York and Fairfield counties, as well as the Savannah River Site nuclear weapons complex near Aiken, but found no damage, said representatives of Duke Energy, South Carolina Electric and Gas and the U.S. Department of Energy. Major dams, such as the one at Lake Murray near Columbia, also fared well, authorities said.

SCE&G, Duke and Energy Department officials said their equipment did not register earthquake levels high enough to trigger further action, but they chose to check facilities anyway.

“I wouldn’t say there was concern,” SCE&G spokesman Eric Boomhower said late Saturday afternoon. “Anytime you have a seismic event, we always are going to go out and take a look at our facilities to see if possibly something was compromised.”

Earthquakes are more common than people may realize in South Carolina, but most aren’t large enough for many people to notice.

Geologists said the Friday night quake happened three miles underneath the earth’s surface.

Lowcountry residents felt the quake more acutely than did people who live near a monitoring station in Campobello, near Spartanburg, according to scientists in the South Carolina Earthquake Education and Preparedness program at the College of Charleston’s Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences. The hard-rock soil of the Upstate rumbles less than the sandy areas along the coast. That’s also why earthquakes, even of a low magnitude, do more damage along the coast, the scientists said Saturday morning.

Overall, Pradeep Talwani, a retired University of South Carolina earthquake expert, said eastern earthquakes are felt over larger areas than those on the West Coast. Fewer faults in the east allow eastern quakes to be felt more broadly, he said.

“The Charleston earthquake of 1886 was felt over 2 million square miles,” Talwani said. “It rang bells in Boston, it was felt in Chicago, it was felt in Texas, it was felt in Bermuda. A comparable earthquake, the World Series earthquake (of 1989), was barely felt outside of California.”

Quakes of 4.1 can cause cracks in walls or force items off of shelves, but they would not normally cause buildings to fall down, he said.

Eric Strom, director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s water science office in Columbia, said Saturday the quake “was pretty good sized’’ for this part of the country.

Jim Landmeyer, who works with Strom in the USGS Columbia office, was tucking his 8-year-old daughter in bed Friday night when both noticed their two-story home in Blythewood, north of Columbia, shaking.

“It felt like military helicopters were perched on top of my house, the downdraft was shaking the house,” he said Saturday. “There was a rumble. The house shook a little bit and my daughter asked me ’Dad, what’s going on?’”

Landmeyer soon realized that an earthquake was occurring. He ran into his second daughter’s room and “her bed was just shaking back and forth. A couple of books had fallen off her shelf.” The shaking lasted about five to six seconds, he said.

In a 10-minute period, a geological survey website registered about 2,000 comments in which people said they had felt the shaking, said Landmeyer, who confirmed for his neighbors that a quake had occurred.

The Associated Press and Staff Writers Chris Winston and Joey Holleman contributed.


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