Minor earthquake reported near Irmo, but officials say a stronger one could happen in SC

Published: Jul. 17, 2019 at 6:13 PM EDT
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IRMO, S.C. (WIS) - Did you feel the ground shake under your feet this morning?

If you did, you weren’t imagining things. That tremor you felt was an, in fact, an earthquake.

The United States Geological Survey reported an earthquake just north of Irmo on Wednesday morning. The magnitude of that earthquake was reported at 2.2, according to USGS officials.

According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, this was the second earthquake that was reported in the Palmetto State this month. The first one happened in Fairfield County on July 10. That earthquake measured at a 1.4 in magnitude.

South Carolina is not a stranger to earthquakes. Typically, 10 to 20 earthquakes happen a year in South Carolina and 2 to 5 of them are felt.

Most fall into the lower magnitude range that may only be felt by a small number of people under certain conditions.

Officials say that it is important to be prepared and they warn history that could repeat itself.

In 1886 an estimated 7.3 magnitude hit Charleston, 60 people died.

“It was felt from Chicago to Cuba and if and if we got an earthquake of that magnitude today it would probably be the single largest disaster the state or even the region has ever experienced,” Derrec Becker, spokesperson for the South Carolina Emergency Management Division said.

If that earthquake were to happen today in that same location, study information commissioned by SCEMD states that about 900 people would die, 9,000 people would have major injuries and nearly 70,000 households would be displaced.

Dr. Tom Owens, USC professor and interim director of the School of Earth, Ocean, and Environment says, “South Carolina’s highest risk is in the Summerville-Charleston area. The midlands and upstate have lower risk, but can have small earthquakes.”

Owens adds, “the recurrence rate for that type of event (Charleston 1886) is over 1,000 years, so I would be surprised if a similar earthquake happened again during most of our lifetimes. However, something in the magnitude 5-6 range could occur in that area in our lifetimes and would cause considerable damage. Thus, planning for earthquakes is as important as planning for hurricanes.”

“Despite all of our technology, earthquakes cannot be predicted, so a lot of our emergency planning deals with what do we do to help the communities immediately after the fact and certainly with the aftershock potential as well,” Becker said.

While those we spoke with did not feel anything Laura Mellichamp who lives near earthquake said she may have heard something.

“It was about 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock in the morning and I heard a rumble. I didn’t feel any shaking, but I thought It was lightning so it kept me up for a little while and I never heard anything else,” Mellichamp said.

Some we spoke with also had questions about what to do during a powerful earthquake.

“You have less than seconds to prepare for it, so the best thing that you can do is drop cover hold on. You can’t predict which way a building will fall. Drop to the ground, cover your body, get under a sturdy table. Make sure your neck is protected and hold on till the ground stops shaking,” Becker said.

The chance for the ‘big one’ is why every year South Carolinians and the world take part in the ‘Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill’.

Becker says there are some precautions you can immediately take around your house: Bolt, or attach tall items to walls and move large objects from upper cabinets to lower ones.

If you need more info, or have questions from safety, to disaster kits or what to do with your pets, Becker says you can also download or print the South Carolina Earthquake Guide at the EMD website.

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