An earthquake near Charleston, South Carolina, on this day in 1886 leaves more than 100 people dead and hundreds of buildings destroyed. This was the largest recorded earthquake in the history of the southeastern United States.
The earthquake was preceded by foreshocks felt in Summerville, South Carolina, on August 27 and 28 but, still, no one was prepared for the strength of the August 31 quake. At 9:51 p.m., the rumbling began, and it was felt as far away as Boston, Chicago and Cuba. There was damage to buildings as far away as Ohio and Alabama. It was Charleston, South Carolina, though, that took the biggest hit from the quake, which is thought to have had a magnitude of about 7.6. Almost all of the buildings in town were seriously damaged. It is estimated that 14,000 chimneys fell from the earthquake. It caused multiple fires and water lines and wells were ruptured. The total damage was in excess of $5.5 million (about $112 million in today’s money).
While there were no apparent surface cracks as a result of this tremor, railroad tracks were bent in all directions in some locations. Acres of land were liquefied. This quake remained a mystery for many years since there were no known underground faults for 60 miles in any direction. However, better science and detection methods have recently uncovered a concealed fault along the coastal plains of Virginia and the Carolinas. Still, a quake of this magnitude remains highly unlikely in this location.