135 years later: Experts recall impact of 1886 earthquake that shook Charleston

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DOWNTOWN CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – On August 31, 1886, one of the most powerful earthquakes to hit the East Coast struck Charleston. The 7.0 magnitude quake caused extensive damage throughout the Lowcountry.

“Families rich or poor, black or white all suffered in some way,” said historian Nic Butler, who works at the Charleston County Public Library.

A total of 83 people were killed as a result of the earthquake.

“People died of injuries, and then exposure and shock,” said Butler.

Records show that people not only died during the earthquake, but in the days and weeks after. Butler said “there were people who died from fever and exposure to the elements because after the earthquake there were many people, there were hundreds of people, living in the streets, living in parks in Charleston, and you know, struggling to find food and shelter.”

Doctor Steven Jaume with the College of Charleston’s geology department has been studying earthquakes in the Charleston area for years.

He explained that although the 1886 earthquake caused serious damage, the extent of the damage could’ve been much worse had the epicenter actually been closer to the city.

With Charleston situated in “one of the most seismically active areas in the Eastern United States,” according to the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, experts say that learning from the devastation of the past can help us prepare for the future.

“Know that places are going to, some places are going to suffer more than others and people can now build that into the preparations they’re making for when that next big earthquake comes,” said Butler.

You can find data on recent or historic earthquakes by clicking here.

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