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Historic Earthquakes

Giles County, Virginia
1897 05 31 18:58 UTC
Magnitude 5.9
Intensity VIII

Largest Earthquake in Virginia

Giles County Virginia This earthquake was the largest in intensity and aerial extent in Virginia in historical times. MM intensity VII to VIII extended over an elliptical area - from near Lynchburg, Virginia, west to Bluefield, West Virginia, and from Giles County south to Bristol, Tennessee. The MM intensity VIII assigned to this earthquake is based on "many downed chimneys" and "changes in the flow of springs."

The shock was felt severely at Narrows, about 3 kilometers west of Pearisburg. Here, the surface rolled in an undulating motion, water in springs became muddy, and water in some springs ceased to flow. The flow of water in springs also was disturbed in the area of Pearisburg, about 70 kilometers west of Roanoke, and Sugar Run.

The shock was strong at Pearisburg, where walls of old brick houses were cracked and many chimneys were thrown down or badly damaged. Many chimneys also were shaken down at Bedford, Pulaski, Radford, and Roanoke, Virginia, and Bristol, Tennessee; many chimneys were damaged at Christiansburg, Dublin, Floyd, Houston, Lexington, Lynchburg, Rocky Mount, Salem, Tazewell, and Wytheville, Virginia; Charlotte, Oxford, Raleigh, and Winston, North Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Bluefield, West Virginia. Felt from Georgia to Pennsylvania and from the Atlantic coast westward to Indiana and Kentucky. Aftershocks continued through June 6, 1897.

Abridged from Seismicity of the United States, 1568-1989 (Revised), by Carl W. Stover and Jerry L. Coffman, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1527, United States Government Printing Office, Washington: 1993.