Rare 5.1 Quake in North Carolina Spares Street Project Near Epicenter

Tue August 11, 2020 - Southeast Edition

A rare magnitude 5.1 earthquake caused cracks in several roads around town.
A rare magnitude 5.1 earthquake caused cracks in several roads around town.

The mayor of Sparta, N.C., issued a state of emergency Aug. 9, hours after a rare magnitude 5.1 earthquake, with its epicenter just outside his town, was felt across North Carolina and neighboring states, and from Georgia to Ohio.

Sparta is a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains near the Virginia border.

The earthquake was centered 54 mi. northwest of Winston-Salem and happened at 8:07 a.m., according to an official United States Geological Service (USGS) report.

Many who felt the tremor said it lasted 10 to 15 seconds. The quake is the strongest earthquake to happen in North Carolina since 1916. It came just a few hours after a smaller tremor in the middle of the night and was followed by several smaller aftershocks Aug. 9 and 10.

Mayor Wes Brinegar said no injuries have been reported, although there is widespread minor damage to homes, businesses and streets. Cracks appeared in several roads around towns, including one about 16 in. deep. Another Sparta street buckled when a water pipe burst underneath it.

By the afternoon of Aug. 9, North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) crews used equipment to patch up some damaged roads in Alleghany County.

The earthquake also struck just as Sparta's Downtown Streetscape and Waterline Project was progressing to upgrade the scenic town of just over 1,700 people.

As of Aug. 10 afternoon, no damage to the project was reported.

Sparta's construction upgrade includes:

  • Milling and asphalt resurfacing extending from Trojan Avenue to Grandview Drive (a scheduled and routine NCDOT maintenance project),
  • The current 80-year-old waterline will be replaced from Trojan Avenue to Grandview Drive (about 3,500 linear ft.),
  • Electric, telephone, and cable utilities are being shifted from overhead to underground lines along the downtown corridor from Doughton Street to near Halsey Drug Company, and
  • Streetscape improvements to the downtown corridor from Doughton Street to Cheek Street that will focus on pedestrian safety and walkability, provide better emergency vehicle access, and upgrade parking in town.

The streetscape project has been under way for a year.

Brinegar said if the old waterline had not recently been replaced, the quake would have been much more destructive to his small community.

Sparta felt up to 11 shakes by the morning of Aug. 10, with four of them registering over 2.6 magnitude. There also were six to seven minor shakes throughout Allegheny County in the afternoon.

The mayor said the town is "not out of the woods yet."

On the USGS website, geologists warned people living and working near the epicenter to "be ready for more earthquakes" since aftershocks will continue near the mainshock, "especially when in or around vulnerable structures such as unreinforced masonry buildings."

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