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What Would Happen If the Historic 1886 Quake Hit S.C. Today?

The 7.3-magnitude earthquake that struck Charleston on Aug. 31, 1886, was one of the most powerful ever recorded in the state. The quake killed 60 people and was felt for more than 2.5 million square miles away.

(TNS) - The earthquake that shook parts of South Carolina early Monday was a baby compared to the historic 1886 event that wrecked Charleston. And if a similar quake were to occur today, the damage would still be catastrophic, a state study shows.

A 3.3 magnitude earthquake was recorded at 1:32 a.m. Monday near Eglin — one of the most powerful to hit the state in years — according to the U.S. Geological Survey. People reported feeling the quake for miles away. However, no damage has been reported yet.

In contrast, the 7.3 magnitude earthquake that struck Charleston on Aug. 31, 1886 was one of the most powerful ever recorded in the state. The quake killed 60 people and was felt for more than 2.5 million square miles away, from Cuba to New York and Bermuda to the Mississippi River.

A scientific study the South Carolina Emergency Management Division commission shows that an earthquake of similar intensity and location today would likely be devastating. Below is a list of the estimated impacts from such a quake.

  • There would be an estimated 45,000 casualties, of which approximately 9,000 about 20% would be major injuries requiring hospitalization; fatalities would number about 900. A daytime event would cause the highest number of casualties.
  • Nearly 70,000 households or about 200,000 people, would be displaced, with an estimated 60,000 people requiring short-term shelter.
  • Total economic losses from damage to buildings, direct business interruption losses and damage to transportation and utility systems would exceed $20 billion. Direct economic losses due to building damages (without the business interruption losses) are estimated to exceed $14 billion. Transportation and utility systems’ direct economic losses would exceed $1 billion.
  • About $10.9 billion in economic losses would occur in the tri-county area of Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester. The building damages alone would cause more than $4.2 billion in losses due to direct business interruption in the state. Loss estimates include rental income, business income, wages and relocation expenses.
  • More than 250 fires would burn, primarily in the tri-county area. The lack of operational firefighting equipment and water due to the earthquake would be a major concern.
  • About 80% of urban households in the affected tri-county area would be deprived of water. It would take weeks, if not months, to restore the water systems to normal operation.
  • Hospitals would likely suffer significant building damage that could result in up to 30 hospitals out of the 108 — about 30% — being nonfunctional.
  • More than 220 schools and more than 160 fire stations would have significant damage. In addition, extensive damage is expected to the large inventory of relocatable school buildings.
  • Close to 800 bridges would be damaged beyond use, thus hampering recovery efforts.
  • About 63 electric power facilities (51 substations out of 380 and 12 power plants out of 53) would suffer at least moderate damage. About 300,000 households would be without power.
  • More than 36 million tons of debris would be generated.

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