Officials in Alleghany County are tallying damage from the worst earthquake with an epicenter in North Carolina in over a century with hopes of securing state or federal financial recovery aid.
The 5.1 magnitude earthquake occurred at 8:07 a.m. Sunday. It shook houses for about 10 seconds and awakened many people in Wilkes County. The quake reportedly was felt as far away as Ohio and Atlanta, Ga.
In Alleghany, it caused power outages, broke waterlines, buckled pavement, cracked walls, toppled chimneys, left buildings off their foundations and knocked items off shelves. The Alleghany Sheriff’s Office reported damage to at least 175 buildings, including the county office building. Over 15 homes reportedly were left uninhabitable.
Mike Sprayberry, N.C. Emergency Management director, said damage to that many houses and other structures indicates a good chance of securing financial assistance. The Alleghany Sheriff’s Office is collecting reports of damage and organizing cleanup efforts.
Gov. Roy Cooper and N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey visited Alleghany County early this week to view damage from the earthquake. Causey spoke about how to protect property with insurance coverage for natural disasters, but said most standard insurance policies don’t cover this type of damage.
A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) map put the epicenter a little over 2 1/2 miles south of Sparta near Hoppers Dairy Road, between the Glade Valley and Pine Swamp communities. The worst damage appeared to be in a roughly two-mile long corridor of U.S. 21, starting on the north near the U.S. 21 bridge over the Little River.
About 10 miles directly south of Pine Swamp at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountain escarpment in Wilkes, Dennis McGrady of Longbottom Road in Traphill said the earthquake activated a cuckoo clock that he and his wife, Janet McGrady, brought home from England by making the pendulum swing. He said it also knocked down glass suncatchers from a window.
On River’s Edge Road near Sparta, the earthquake shifted the home of Kerry and Kim Miller about a half inch off its foundation and damaged sheet rock around window and door casings. It also left numerous household items strewn across the floors.
The Millers were tending the Labrador retrievers they raise when the quake hit. She held on to a post and Miller to a garage door to keep from being knocked down. A snow ski on a wall fell and hit Miller’s head, not seriously injuring him but breaking off the end of the ski. Miller said the earthquake “was like being on a wooden roller coaster.” He added that they felt a series of tremors Friday night through early Saturday morning.
According to the USGS, Sunday’s earthquake was the largest one centered in North Carolina since a 5.2 earthquake with an epicenter in Buncombe County in 1916.