Gabriel's Horn

Surely, no American city has endured such a history of disaster as Charleston, set beguilingly beside the Atlantic upon her fragile spit of earth between the Ashley and Cooper rivers.  Fires, floods, epidemics, blockades, sieges, bombardments, hurricanes, and earthquakes have repeatedly scarred her, but arguably the great Charleston earthquake of 1886 was the most destructive of all.  It came as a cruel blow to a city that had only just begun to recover from the devastation of the Civil War.  According to the authors of Upheaval in Charleston, the earthquake was probably caused by pressure spreading westward from a ridge of undersea volcanoes in the Atlantic—pressure that triggered a “slip” in one or more fault lines just to the northwest of the city, near the historic Middleton Plantation on the Ashley River, where three faults intersect—the chief of these known as the Woodstock fault.  Registering, by contemporary estimates, at least 7.3 on the Richter scale, the Charleston earthquake was not as powerful as either the New Madrid earthquake (1812) or the San Francisco earthquake (1906).  But the havoc in the Charleston area was substantial.  At least 124 people were killed, and hundreds more were injured.  Almost 70 percent of the city’s buildings were either destroyed or seriously damaged, and its three major hospitals were demolished. ...

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