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

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Downtown Charleston, South Carolina (WCBD) – On August 31, 1886, one of the strongest earthquakes to hit the East Coast struck Charleston. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused extensive damage throughout the Lowcountry.

“Families rich or poor, black or white, somehow suffered,” said historian Nick Butler, who works at the Charleston County Public Library.

A total of 83 people died as a result of the earthquake.

“People died of injuries, and then they were traumatized,” Butler said.

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

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Dr. Stephen Jaume of the Department of Geology at the College of Charleston has been studying earthquakes in the Charleston area for years.

He explained that although the 1886 earthquake caused extensive damage, the extent of the damage could have been much worse had the epicenter in fact been closer to the city.

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

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“Know that some places will suffer more than others, and people can now incorporate that into the preparations they make when the next big earthquake comes,” Butler said.

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

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