‘Crack’ in hillside rattles nerves in NC, but it predates 5.1 earthquake, some say

‘Crack’ in hillside rattles nerves in NC, but it predates 5.1 earthquake, some say
Travis Simpson-Hunt says he and his family were on vacation in Sparta, N.C., when they spotted this large crack in the ground. (Source: TRAVIS SIMPSON-HUNT PHOTO via Charlotte Observer)

(The Charlotte Observer) - That “crack” spotted in a hillside after Sparta, North Carolina, suffered a 5.1 earthquake Sunday may be a lot less ominous than some people feared.

It shocked tourists in town for the weekend, but some locals say it predates the quake.

Vacationer Travis Simpson-Hunt describes a scene out of a disaster movie when he recalls birds taking flight seconds before the earthquake and the sound of a train roaring through his cabin.

But the damage he saw was just as disturbing. This includes a “crack” in a hillside that prompted drivers to pull over and take photos.

“There was this big one (crack) and a small one below it. And then lots of cracks the width of my foot going across the road,” Simpson-Hunt said. “It was not far outside of town.”

The family packed up after only one day in town and headed back to Pennsylvania, he said.

The exact location of the gash in the hill has not been revealed, but at least one landowner says its not new. Its age isn’t known, but some in Sparta say it’s not a crack, but a rut where cows have tread on a family’s farm outside of town.

The gash is definitely not an actual fault line crack, the U.S. Geological Survey says. “Faults do not open up during an earthquake,” it reports.

Gaping cracks forming in quakes and swallowing things up are among the biggest myths associated with earthquakes, according to a report by the University of San Diego.

“Certainly, earthquakes can cause cracks to form in the Earth,” the university reported. “However, these cracks are generally quite small and only rarely do they exceed a meter or two in width. And certainly these cracks don’t again close up and swallow somebody whole.”

The U.S. Geological Survey says the 5.1 earthquake originated at a depth of 2.3 miles, and was the strongest of at least seven quakes that rattled the area over 24 hours. Experts say damage was more wide spread in the community than expected, because it was a relatively “shallow” earthquake.

More than 100,000 people reported feeling the earthquake, the USGS reported Monday.

Copyright 2020 The Charlotte Observer. All rights reserved.