Just A Little Shakin’ Goin’ On

When most people think of earthquakes, they think of trembling in Southern California, volcanic Pacific islands and third world countries where masses of people reside. But if you think that the area in which we live is immune from tremors emanating from deep within the Earth, you are wrong.  For nearly two centuries, scientists have recorded earthquake activity which has affected, mostly in a minor way, the lands of east-central Georgia.   In the last half century in particular, earthquake monitors have detected even the slightest quiver in the Earth’s crust just below the Fall Line.

The first recorded sensation of an earthquake in our area came in 1811 and 1812 in what was called the New Madrid Series.  These quakes were centered in Madrid, Missouri, but could be strongly felt in the Georgia capital of Milledgeville.  The strongest of these quakes registered 6.25 on the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale, a reading which would indicate  slight damage to buildings and movement of heavy furniture.   Sixty years later on June 17, 1872,  a Category V quake centered in Milledgeville trembled the former capital.

On November 1, 1875, an earthquake measuring six on the Mercalli scale emanated from the South Carolina/Georgia line.  Just before 10:00 that evening, the quake was felt all over East Central Georgia.  In Macon, there were reports of buildings jarring perceptibly. The vibrations, which lasted only two seconds, were followed by what was described as “the detonations of distant artillery.”    Accounts from Milledgeville reported “a heavy rumbling” resonating from southeast to northwest.  Since there are no extant written accounts from Dublin, little is known of the quake’s effect on our community other than a similar slight jostling.

One hundred and eighteen years ago tonight on August 31, 1886, the most powerful earthquake to ever strike the southeastern United States struck South Carolina, between Charleston and Summerville.  The quake, which measured an intensity of ten, nearly destroyed the ancient port city and its suburban resort neighbor to the west.   The quake was so powerful that it was felt as far away as Boston, Chicago and Cuba.

The Dublin Post reported on the same night at nine o’clock, “houses swayed perceptibly, doors opened, trees trembled and even the Earth was so disturbed that pedestrians found it difficult to travel.”  The shock was sufficient to evoke a clatter which awoke many who were asleep. Church services were in progress when the quake began.  Fearing the “wrath of God” was thrust upon them, the worshipers hastily vacated the sanctuaries.    The event was the topic on everyone’s mind the following day. Rumors and true accounts of some of the more hilarious details of the commotion, although plentiful, were unfortunately not published in the newspaper.   Recent scientific studies have determined that the intensity in Dublin was measured at or above seven, which was capable of causing slight damage in ordinary structures, considerable damage in poorly built buildings and moderate damage to chimneys.

Accounts of the earthquake were reported from all over the region.  Though the times vary from as early as 8:52 in Macon to 9:00 in Cochran,  all reports of the effects of the phenomenon were similar.  Most witnesses stated that the sound which preceded the shaking moved from east to west or northeast to southwest.  A second shock occurred less than sixty seconds after the first jolt.  In Savannah, which was fairly close to the epicenter of the quake, building damage was moderate. Some loss of life and injuries were reported.  It was noted that Lucy Foster was “scared to death.”   Residents of Tybee Island suffered more damage, including moderate damage to the historic lighthouse on the barrier island.   People in Augusta remembered four distinct shocks, followed by more after shocks the following morning.

The quake struck Eastman at 8:55 with “heavy shocks.”  A couple of a dozen miles to the northwest, bottles were said to have been shaken off the shelves in Hawkinsville during the quake, which lasted 20 to 25 seconds.  Cochran residents recounted that the shaking lasted 30 seconds, but consisted of two separate shocks, the second being greater than the first one.   In McRae, houses trembled and windows rattled, with little if any damage.   Folks ran from their homes in Chauncey during the “violent shake.”

On October 22, 1912, the ground beneath Dubliners shook for several seconds.  The sharp quake, reminiscent of the great Charleston earthquake, was preceded by a sound similar to thunder.  There was a severe  shaking and rattling of buildings and houses, but no damage was reported.   Witnesses reported the sound of a loud noise around 8:15 p.m.  The Dublin City Council adjourned its session to flee to the streets in a panic.  The fire department jumped into action thinking that a large explosion had just occurred somewhere in the city.   The October seismological event followed a slight Category V quake in Savannah the previous June.

In more recent times, the monitoring of earthquake activity has vastly improved.  On March 13, 1964, a quake measuring 4.4 was centered 1 mile west of Plant Branch on Lake Sinclair.  Activity in the area continued in 1965 and again a decade later in 1975.  Beginning in early December 1982 and ending in May 1983, a series of more than one hundred earthquakes occurred in western Twiggs County.  With instruments which could measure the most imperceptible shifts in the Earth’s crust, Georgia Tech scientists recorded thirty eight-seismological events in a twenty-day period ending on Christmas Day.   The strongest of these events was measured at 2.8 on the Richter Scale.   Most of the earthquakes were unnoticed by the locals and were centered between U.S. Highway 80, Interstate Highway 16, Sgoda Road and Alligator Creek.  Earthquakes also occurred in 1985 between Goat Town and Hebron in western Washington County and in 1976 off Highway 117 in southwestern Jefferson County.

On November 18, 2000, a 3.5 quake emanated from the woods of the Baldwin State Forest along the eastern margin of U.S. Highway 441 about a mile north of the Wilkinson County line in Baldwin County.  The last two earthquakes to strike Georgia happened in April and July, 2003.  A moderate 4.9 earthquake shook the northwestern corner of Georgia on the 29th of April.  Closer to home on July 13, 2003, a 3.6 quake reverberated throughout the woods of Candler County about four miles north of Cobbtown.

For those of us who live in the upper boundary of the Coastal Plain, we are, for the  most part, safe from the intensive jarring and cataclysmic destruction of massive earthquakes. But sooner or later, there may come a day when, just for an instant, you might feel the ground quiver under your feet.  So remember that it is nothing to worry about, or that somewhere, not too far away, there’s a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on!