An average of 10 earthquakes occur in South Carolina each year ( recorded by the South Carolina Seismic Network (SCNET) from 1974 to 1993) . The highest Richter magnitude (size) of these earthquakes was 4.1 (August 21, 1992). Thirty-nine of
the 50 states are vulnerable to earthquakes.
Earthquakes? In the southeastern United States? Earthquakes don't happen here!
Earthquakes can and do happen in the Carolinas. In the evening of August 31, 1886, the city of Charleston South Carolina experienced the most damaging earthquake ever recorded east of the Mississippi River in the United States. The quake was felt as far north as New York, as far south as Cuba, as far west as Mississippi, and as far east as Bermuda. The quake and its aftershocks killed approximately 110 people and damaged 90 percent of the brick homes in Charleston. In all of the large towns within 200 miles of Charleston (including Columbia, Augusta, Raleigh, Atlanta and Savannah) houses and other structures were damaged.
North Carolina is affected by not only the Charleston fault in South Carolina but also by the New Madrid fault in Missouri. The largest earthquake in North Carolina was February 21, 1916. The epicenter was near Waynesville. Tops of chimneys were thrown to the ground; windowpanes were broken in many houses; and people rushed into the streets at Waynesville. At Sevierville, Tennessee about 70 kilometers northwest of Waynesville, bricks were shaken from chimneys. Minor damage was reported in western Tennessee at Athens, Knoxville, Maryville, Morristown, and Newport, Tennessee; at Tryon, North Carolina; and at Bristol, Virginia. Also reported felt in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, and West Virginia.
But that's ancient history. There haven't been any earthquakes in South Carolina recently - have there?
In 2001, 31 earthquakes were recorded in the Middleton Place - Summerville
seismic zone (approximately 22 miles northwest of Charleston SC).. The
magnitude ranged from 0.82 to 2.75. Another recent earthquakes within South Carolina was a magnitude 2.7 event on April 5, 2000 (12:18 PM EDT) in the Lake Jocassee area.
Other recent quakes include a magnitude 2.4 centered near Laurens, on May 27,
1999, a magnitiude 2.9 felt throughout the Summerville, SC on March 29,
1999. A magnitude 3.9 earthquake occurred April 13, 1998 in the midlands of South Carolina.
Okay - earthquakes do happen in South Carolina - where are the greatest risk areas?
"major risk" area is centered near Charleston South Carolina and
includes parts of Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley,
Calhoun, Charleston, Clarendon, Colleton, Dorchester, Florence, Georgetown,
Hampton, Jasper, Kershaw, Lee, Lexington, Orangeburg, Richland, Sumter, and
All other South Carolina counties are at "moderate" risk.
In North Carolina, all counties west of Durham are at "moderate"
risk. Counties east of Durham are in "minor" risk areas.
I hear earthquakes referred to by "Richter Scale" - just what is that?
Earthquakes are commonly measured by their magnitude and intensity. Magnitude is the measure of total energy released while intensity is the resulting degree of damage by an earthquake. The Richter scale measures magnitude while the Mercalli scale measures intensity.
A table comparing each level of magnitude (Richter scale) and intensity (Mercalli scale), and the effects each level have on people and structures is available.
I think I felt an earthquake ... how do I report it?
If you think you may have felt an earthquake, you can make reports on-line to
How can I learn more about earthquakes?
Some good links for earthquake information include:
Information on this page was compiled from S.C. Emergency Management Division,
S.C. Earthquake Education Center, N.C.Emergency Management Division, and
National Earthquake Information Center documents.