Cover Story: Carolinas' history of earthquakes

Many people don't know the Carolinas have a record of quakes the same size as the one that struck Haiti.  How prepared are we?

A big one on the magnitude of Haiti's hit Charleston, South Carolina in August 1886 killing about 100 people.

It knocked trains off their tracks, damaged 2.000 buildings, destroyed a quarter of the town just trying to recover from the Civil War.

Earthquakes expert Dr. Andy Bobyarchick in the Geography and Earth Sciences Department at UNC Charlotte says damage is still evident in some places in Charleston today.  The quake was felt here in Charlotte and as far north as Boston.

"It's something to remember that in the eastern U.S., we're not beyond the affects of a large earthquake," he said.

In part because of it buildings codes here in Charlotte and in Charleston of course require being able to withstand a Charleston-sized quake.

Not so in Haiti which is why there's been so much widespread damage and consequently loss of life.

He says you have to be prepared.  "Earthquakes are notorious for being unpredictable. We can say where. We can say yes or no.. but in terms of giving you a date we're still a ways off from doing that."

The quake which caused so much damage in Charleston erupts on the average every 500 years.

But moderate quakes can and do occur in the Lowcountry and not so rarely.

A study released last fall by the College of Charleston found even a 5.3 magnitude earthquake could cause $9 billion damage and economic losses in Charleston County alone.

The city's grown up drastically from what it was in 1886, 123 years ago which is why it concerns officials about the prospects of another big one.

Charleston sits on a different shifting plate than Haiti which lies on a fault line similar to California's San Andreas fault and as a result is seismically active.

Charleston is not.. still Dr. Bobyarchick says, "We don't want to become too complacent about that because we do have these historical and prehistorical studies that say large earthquakes have occurred even in the eastern United States."

Does the earthquake in Haiti increase the likelihood of a quake in Charleston?

Experts say not necessarily, but just as they can't predict when an earthquake will strike.  They say they can't rule it out either.