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‘Everything started shaking': 5.1 magnitude earthquake near NC/VA border sends shockwaves across the East Coast

Earthquake struck just outside of Sparta, NC early Sunday morning.

SPARTA, N.C. – The United States Geologic Survey (USGS) reports a 5.1 magnitude earthquake struck Sparta, North Carolina at 8:07 a.m. Sunday morning.

It was the strongest quake in North Carolina in more than 100 years. There was a 5.2 magnitude earthquake reported near Skyland, NC in 1916.

“I about fell off my bed. That’s how hard it hit,” said Sparta resident Jose Perez. “Everything started shaking. I started bouncing off of the bed, and then it stopped. It went on for 10 seconds before it stopped.”

The seismograph at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg recorded the earthquake’s shaking.

Sunday morning seismograph showing Sunday's earthquake
Sunday morning seismograph showing Sunday's earthquake (Virginia Tech)

Once the shaking commenced, residents in Sparta witnessed the remnants of the earthquake’s force. Numerous roads in the city were split open, including well-traveled Route 21, and several homes and businesses experienced structural damage.

“I cried for about 30 minutes this morning trying to clean up a bad mess,” said Scott Smith, whose Sparta-based landscaping and nursery business experienced cracking concrete and shattered items in the earthquake. “This is not about politics, coronavirus, or anything else. This is God showing you what he’s willing to do.”

The earthquake even caught Alleghany County (NC) Sheriff Bryan Maines off-guard.

“I actually woke up with the crashing of picture frames in my house.”

Although the town experienced numerous reports of damage after the tremors, Maines said his office had not received any calls for serious injuries caused by the earthquake.

“For the size and magnitude of this, it was not as bad as it could have been, so we’re really thankful,” Maines said.

Smith said as long as everyone survived the earthquake, he can reminisce on the ten seconds that shook Sparta to its core.

“My son on the way to town said, ‘Dad, what are we going to do?’” Smith said. “I told him, ‘You’re sitting next to me. Your mom and my daughter are beside me in the car. We’re going to be okay.’”

The USGS says there are likely to be aftershocks this week, but only a four percent chance of anything stronger than Sunday morning’s earthquake.

Students in Grayson County will not return to the classroom this week because of the earthquake. Classes will now start on Aug. 18 because of potential aftershocks.

If you felt the earthquake, you can report the shaking to the USGS here.

If you’d like to learn more about earthquakes in Virginia, the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy has a great resource.


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