Friday’s late night earthquake – the most robust felt by Georgia over the last two decades – did little damage to infrastructure on both sides of the Savannah River, according to officials who scrambled Saturday to check major structures throughout the region.
Geophysicist John Bellini, of the U.S. Geological Survey National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., said the 4.1 quake was the most powerful since a magnitude 4.3 earthquake centered just north of Lincolnton rocked the region on Aug. 2, 1974. Friday’s tremblor was centered 12 kilometers west-northwest of Edgefield.
Preliminary inspections of Lake Thurmond and Lake Russell dams came back positive, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Billy Birdwell said Saturday. Security camera inspections of both dams were conducted Friday night immediately following the quake, and engineers were dispatched early Saturday to conduct a second visual inspection.
“It will take several days to make sure everything is OK,” Birdwell said. “Those dams were built and designed to withstand earthquakes because we knew when we built the dams the region was prone to the occasional earthquake.”
In Waynesboro, Plant Vogtle continued operations Saturday with ease, Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins said.
After a walk-through inspection, Vogtle units 1 and 2 were found to be operating safely and construction on units 3 and 4 continued through the night uninterrupted, he said.
“Nuclear power plants including Plant Vogtle are well-built facilities,” Hawkins said. “They are designed to withstand very strong earthquakes.”
Phone calls to Savannah River Remediation, the liquid waste contractor at Savannah River Site, weren’t immediately returned Saturday afternoon.
The South Carolina Department of Transportation dispatched bridge inspectors and other engineering personnel to several counties effected by the quake Saturday, including Edgefield, McCormick, Aiken and Barnwell, according to a release on its Web site Saturday.
The department worked in tandem with the Georgia Department of Transportation to inspect Interstate 20 bridges over the Savannah River, which are owned and maintained by the latter.
Edgefield County Emergency Preparedness Director Mike Casey said Saturday that very little damage has been reported throughout the county. Any damage that has been reported, he said, is difficult to distinguish from the damage caused by the ice storm earlier in the week.
Casey said the only damage from the quake he knew of was to the brick exterior of China Grove Baptist Church. The church is less than two miles from the quake’s epicenter.
The Rev. Luther Garrett said the interior of the building suffered minor damage as well.
“(The emergency management agency) came inside and looked around,” Garrett said Saturday. “There were three broken places in the sheetrock, and there were blisters on the ceiling.”
Mary Cunningham, a member of the church since she was 6, said the noise from the quake is what startled her the most. She lives three miles from the church.
“We got shook up pretty good,” Cunningham said. “I was watching TV and I heard a loud noise like a roaring. I thought it was a tornado or a plane crash or there was a crash up on the road. I have never heard anything like it before, a roaring like that.”
In Augusta, there were no reports of damage, Disaster Preparedness Coordinator Mie Lucas said. Augusta Traffic Engineering employees were sent out early Saturday to inspect roads and bridges, but found no damage.
“It looks like we’re safe,” Lucas said.
Earthquakes in the central and eastern United States, which happen less frequently than those in the western portions of the country, are typically felt over a larger area, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Web site. A magnitude 4.0 earthquake can be felt as far away as 60 miles from where it originated.
Friday’s quake, however, was reportedly felt from as far away as Athens, Ga.; Atlanta; Spartanburg, S.C.; Columbia; and Charlotte, N.C.
Staff writers Meg Mirshak and Mike Rosier contributed to this story.