The snow and ice dumped by an unusually severe winter storm were melting, once-frigid temperatures were rising and residents of South Carolina and Georgia finally had begun to relax.
Then the earth shuddered.
A small earthquake shook both states late Friday, shaking homes and rattling residents hundreds of miles away.
The quake happened at 10:23 p.m. and had a preliminary magnitude of 4.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s website. It was centered 7 miles west of the town of Edgefield, S.C. , and was felt as far west as Atlanta and as far north as Hickory, N.C., each about 150 miles away.
“It’s a large quake for that area,” said USGS geophysicist Dale Grant. “It was felt all over the place.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported two nearby dams on the Savannah River appeared to be undamaged, but planned a thorough inspection Saturday morning, Edgefield County Emergency Preparedness Director Mike Casey said.
Casey said the quake was centered in a sparsely populated part of Edgefield County where there are a lot more rabbits and deer than people. He was driving around and hadn’t found any damage, but he expects some reports of minor damages to come in once the sun rises.
“To get an accurate assessment we’re going to need daylight. I could be looking at damage in the dark and not know it. Tomorrow morning, I go out to get my paper and I see the bricks in my house are cracked,” Casey said.
Authorities across South Carolina said their 911 centers were inundated with calls of people reporting what they thought were explosions or plane crashes as the quake’s low rumble spread across the state.
Reports surfaced on Twitter of a leaking water tower in Augusta, Ga., following the quake, but the tower was damaged by ice from a winter storm earlier this week and not the quake, said Richmond County Sheriff’s Lt. Tangela McCorkle.
No damages or injuries from the quake itself had been reported, said South Carolina Emergency Management Division spokesman Derrec Becker. The ice storm felled a lot of trees in the area, which could make it more difficult to determine what damage was caused by the quake.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley felt the earthquake at the governor’s mansion in Columbia. She asked the Department of Transportation to inspect bridges in the area Saturday morning as a precaution, said her spokesman Doug Mayer.
Tom Clements, a resident of suburban Columbia about 60 miles east of the quake’s epicenter, said he felt the walls of his brick house shaking “and they were definitely shaking like what I’ve experienced before in Latin America” during an earthquake.
Clements said he immediately went outside to see if anyone else had felt it and he found two neighbors who had.
“One thought a tree had fallen” under the weight of ice dumped by the storm, he said.
Earthquakes aren’t unheard of in the region. A 4.3-magnitude earthquake happened in Georgia in August 1974 several miles west of Friday’s quake. Three others of similar magnitude have been felt in South Carolina in the past 40 years, according to the USGS.
The largest earthquake ever recorded on the East Coast was a 7.3-magnitude quake near Charleston in August 1886 that killed at least 60 people.