5.1 Magnitude Earthquake Rattles North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee; Roads cracked, dishes broken

By Ron Brackett
less than an hour ago

Earthquake Rattles Several States in the Southeast

Meteorologist Heather Tesch takes a look at where a 5.1 magnitude earthquake shook several states on Sunday morning.

At a Glance

  • The earthquake struck shortly after 8 a.m. ET Sunday.
  • Houses shook for several seconds.
  • Damage reports have started to come in.
  • The USGS said there could be aftershocks.

A moderate 5.1 magnitude earthquake shook several states in the Southeastern U.S. on Sunday morning.

The earthquake struck at 8:07 a.m.ET about a mile south-southeast of Sparta, North Carolina, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Sparta is on the North Carolina-Virginia border about 90 miles north of Charlotte, North Carolina.

It was the sixth earthquake in the area in a little more than 24 hours. A series of small quakes began at 7:05 a.m. Saturday. The strongest of those was a 2.6 magnitude tremor that struck about 2 miles south of Sparta at 1:57 a.m. Sunday, the USGS reported.

The USGS reported that the quake was felt as far south as Augusta, Georgia, and as far north as Staunton, Virginia.

"It was like riding one of those waves where it lifts you up and sets you back down," Sparta Mayor Wes Brinegar told WTVD. "It sounded like a locomotive going by the house. We had a little bit of structural damage here, not much. ... Our town is very good. We lost a few bricks and a few chimneys; no broken windows."

“Not even a minute passed and the side-to-side motion started,” Michael Hull, who was at his home in Sparta, told The Associated Press. “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.”

Twitter users from across North and South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee reported feeling the tremor. Houses shook for four or five seconds.

Social media posts showed cracked roadways, bricks falling off chimneys and broken dishes. A video posted on Twitter by a WGHP journalist showed a broken water line and buckled roads in Sparta.

Photos from a Food Lion grocery store in Sparta showed items knocked off shelves, broken bottles and a damaged light fixture hanging from the ceiling.

The USGS said residents should be aware there is "a possibility of aftershocks, especially when in or around vulnerable structures such as unreinforced masonry buildings." It added, however, there is only a 4 % chance of one or more aftershocks larger than magnitude 5.1.

Sunday's 5.1 magnitude quake was the strongest in North Carolina since the early 1900s.

In February 1916, a 5.2 magnitude earthquake struck south of Asheville in Skyland, North Carolina. Another 5.2 magnitude quake struck in Mitchell County, about 30 miles northeast of Asheville, in July 1926, according to the state's Department of Environmental Quality.

The last earthquake to cause damage in North Carolina struck in Henderson County in May 1981, according to DEQ.

Unlike California, North Carolina does not have active fault zones, according to the DEQ. Earthquakes in the state are relatively small random events.

"The idea is that a large earthquake is really, really unlikely," Cheryl Waters-Tormey, department head of geosciences at Western Carolina University, told WLOS in 2018.

"Based on what we know so far, the Earth can always surprise us, but, because we're not part of an active plate boundary, the stress build up can't be that big in order to generate a large earthquake, at least in this system."

Sarah Carmichael, an associate geology professor at Appalachian State University,, explained that small earthquakes in North Carolina are “associated with very old faults that formed during the building of the Appalachian mountains.”

“The faults themselves aren’t active anymore in terms of tectonics, but as the North American plate moves/shifts with time and builds up stress, these little faults will be the things that can move a bit to diffuse some of the stress on the plate,” Carmichael told the Winston Salem Journal.

This is a developing story. Check back at weather.com often for updates.