UNC geologists survey damage near epicenter of 5.1 magnitude earthquake in Sparta

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- There was fear and panic for some North Carolinians after experiencing a 5.1 magnitude earthquake for the first time.

But for researchers like Kevin Stewart, a UNC associate professor in Geological Sciences, it was fascinating.

"It's an unusual geological event and so I was a bit excited," Stewart told ABC11.

5.1 magnitude earthquake reported in Sparta, could be felt across parts of central North Carolina

Quakes this strong are rare in our state. Stewart felt it from his home in Raleigh Sunday morning.

By that afternoon, he traveled 145 miles west to Sparta. He and other scientists surveyed cracked roads and structures near the quake's epicenter.

"Ultimately we'd like to get an idea of which parts of the ground were shaking the hardest," Steward said. "Which ones moved and if that can give us some insight then into the possible origin of the earthquake."

Geologists said this was a reverse fault quake -- a violent release of stress, after building slowly overtime, then erupting.

What is an earthquake? This is what happens when the ground starts to shake

The tremor separated the earth and created a new fault plane underground.

Monday marked the first day of school at UNC. Stewart said Sunday's quake was a hot topic of discussion for students studying geology.

"We were nearing the end of class and I asked them if they wanted to hear about the quake in our next class and go off syllabus and they said, 'Yes,' said Stewart.

The last five magnitude earthquake, similar to this one, hit our state in 1916. The U.S. Geological Survey registered that quake at 5.2 magnitude.

"Very unlikely that we're going to have any of this size any time soon," said Stewart. "But I could be wrong."

Geologists say what's interesting about Sunday's quake is that there were smaller shakes leading up to the big event.

Experts have recorded several small aftershocks and there's the potential for more in the coming days.

Multiple aftershocks felt around western NC following 5.1 magnitude earthquake
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