EDITORIAL: S.C. should prepare for future earthquakes

It's good news that South Carolinians and the state's roads, bridges, nuclear power plants and other infrastructure fared well in the recent 4.1 magnitude earthquake felt in both South Carolina and Georgia.

But it also serves as an important reminder that South Carolina experiences earthquakes regularly -- and residents should be prepared. Ten to 20 quakes are recorded annually in the state, according to the S.C. Emergency Management Division, but only two to five of them are felt.

Seismologists warn that any place that has experienced an earthquake once could experience another. And while the coast is the most likely place for earthquakes to occur, the entire state is considered a moderate to high risk.

The most recent quake was centered 7 miles west of Edgefield, a small town outside of Augusta, Ga., known as the birthplace of the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond and nine other S.C. governors -- not as a quake hot spot. It was felt as far west as Atlanta and as far north as Hickory, N.C., each about 150 miles away.

Some seismologists theorize that the 7.3 temblor that struck Charleston in 1886 could one day hit the area again. The massive earthquake killed 60 people, caused structural damage across several hundred miles and was felt from Cuba to New York and from Bermuda to the Mississippi River, according to EMD.

If a similar earthquake were to hit today, it would cause about 900 casualties and more than $20 billion in economic losses because of destruction to buildings, damage to infrastructure and interruption to business, according to a study commissioned by the division.

Some hospitals would go offline because of structural damage, fire stations would struggle to keep up with the number of fires burning and water could be scarce because of damage to water lines. Many of the state's bridges and roads would be unusable for days.

It's impossible for a state or individual to prepare for the inevitable destruction that a major earthquake would bring, but there are a few common-sense things we can all do to increase safety.

Namely, know what to do if an earthquake hits. If you are indoors, drop to the ground immediately, take cover under a sturdy desk, table or other piece of furniture and hold on until the shaking stops. Be prepared to move with the furniture and avoid danger spots near windows or where objects such as pictures and mirrors hang overhead.

And if outside, move to a clear area away from trees, buildings, power lines or anything else that may fall. The same goes for being inside a store -- move away from display shelves and other items that may fall and cause injury, then take cover. And drivers should pull to the side of the road, avoiding overpasses and power lines.

The division also recommends that residents have emergency kits ready to go, stocked with non-perishable food, water, flashlights with extra batteries, a first aid kit and more. (For a complete list, go to www.scemd.org and click on the S.C. Earthquake Guide.)

There's no reason to fret over the prospect of earthquakes. A few precautions can set our minds at ease.