SPARTA, N.C. — The damage left behind after a 5.1 magnitude earthquake struck Sparta on Aug. 9 was worse than initially thought, according to the Town of Sparta.
“We are hearing continuous rumbles throughout our community here in town and in Alleghany County, but we thank the Good Lord to this day that there have been no injuries or fatalities,” Mayor Wes Brinegar said during a Tuesday news conference.
While damage assessments are still ongoing, the Town of Sparta had received about 525 reports of damage as of the close of business Monday, Emergency Management Director Daniel Shoffner said. 60 of these cases have been categorized as “major damage,” meaning they lost 40% or more in value.
“We underestimated the damage and that was the number one thing. We were looking for major damage in our initial reports, but now, it’s coming out more and more with damage more widespread and severe,” Brinegar said.
Brinegar said many of the people living in Sparta, especially those in the older population, are dealing with the emotional trauma that comes with having a natural disaster. And having 20 aftershocks since the earthquake hasn’t helped.
“We’re still getting those aftershocks and those loud booms periodically. A lot of people are on edge right now and a lot of people have those issues because they’re paranoid right now,” Brinegar said.
The Estep sisters didn’t return back to even look at the damage until Tuesday — more than a week after the quake. They own three side-by-side properties that have all been deemed unlivable.
“Our parents were here first and all total 54 years,” Mary Estep said.
In those 54 years, a lot of memories have been made there.
“All the Christmas’ all the holidays, birthday, Thanksgiving was here,” Mary Estep said.
In a matter of seconds, everything changed.
“All of a sudden it was like a bomb went off. Everything was flying and shaking, and it was terrifying. Only thing I was thinking was, ‘I got to get her out of the kitchen,’” Mary Estep said.
As the quake shook photos, books and home décor off the walls and shelves, she was in the living room frantically trying to get to her sister Alice Estep.
“She was yelling ‘get out, get out.’ And I was saying ‘I’m right here, I’m right here,’” Alice Estep said.
Hanging on to one another, the two women made it to the door only to find that it was blocked from the outside. A neighbor was able to get them out.
They own these two homes and the apartments in the middle. All three properties are beyond repair.
“This is a loss completely to us. We just don’t know where to turn, or what to do,” Alice Estep said.
While it’s going to take months for some people, cleanup efforts have begun for those who’ve documented their damages.
The emergency management report for damage assessment has been sent to state officials.
“We are very much relying on state and federal officials to help put the people in this county,” said Daniel Roten, Alleghany County Emergency Management coordinator.
He’s hopeful the county will get some money to assist individuals in this time of need.
“As its been mentioned before, no one here had earthquake insurance — maybe a handful. I can count them on one hand,” Roten said.
Unfortunately, with every tragedy, Brinegar said it seems like there’s someone trying to profit off of it. He said scammers are creating GoFundMe pages asking people to donate.
The Red Cross is now housing 19 people from 10 families.
The city doesn’t have an official GoFundMe for the victims. Brinegar said all assistance will go through the American Red Cross and they do have a fund called “Sparta Alleghany County North Carolina Earthquake.”
Shoffner says the school system did sustain some damage during the earthquake. The school system has taken the necessary steps to ensure the safety of students and faculty.
The area felt eight tremors before the earthquake, as well as 20 aftershocks.
The 5.1 earthquake centered in Sparta was felt across North Carolina.
The earthquake was centered 54 miles northwest of Winston-Salem and 2.5 miles southeast of Sparta. It happened at 8:07 a.m., according to the official USGS report.
Many who felt the earthquake said it lasted 10-15 seconds.
The 5.1 magnitude earthquake in Sparta was the strongest earthquake to happen in North Carolina since 1916.