Rare Earthquake Rattles the South

A rare earthquake shook parts of the South with a loud roar early Tuesday, cracking foundations, shaking pictures off walls and startling residents from their sleep but causing no serious injuries.

The 4.9 magnitude quake (search), tying the record for Alabama, struck around 4 a.m. CDT and was centered near Fort Payne, Ala., close to the Georgia line, the U.S. Geological Survey (search) said.

It was felt in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi, according to the USGS.

"We have cracked foundations, a trailer off its foundation, tools off the wall, that kind of thing," said Susan Battles of the DeKalb County emergency management office in Fort Payne.

The quake was accompanied by a loud noise in some areas.

"I sat straight up in my bed," said Lucille Simpson, who works at a store at Fort Payne that had bottles and cans knocked off shelves. "My husband said, `That's a tornado,' but I said `No. That's an earthquake."'

"Everybody else, they thought it was an airplane or a bomb," she said.

Residents of several counties in Tennessee reported hearing a low, rolling sound like thunder, and feeling the quake as a shudder.

Emergency management officials in the Fort Payne area said there were scattered power outages but that most people experienced only minor damage to dishes and pictures knocked off walls.

The same was true in Atlanta, about 160 miles from the epicenter.

"My whole house shook. I could feel the whole wave go north to south," said Barry Goodno, a Georgia Tech structural engineering professor who specializes in earthquakes. "Everything was rattling through the room."

USGS spokesman Butch Kinerney in Reston, Va. said the last earthquake reported in the region was on Dec. 8, 2001, with a magnitude of 3.9 toward the Huntsville, Ala., area.

"That area between Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia has been subject to a handful of small earthquakes over the last century," Kinerney said.

This quake was unusual for its strength, he said. "At 4.9, you're getting into good shaking territory," Kinerney said, adding that it was followed by six aftershocks that likely were too mild to be felt.

The largest earthquake ever recorded in Alabama was magnitude 4.9 in 1997, centered in Escambia County in the south.

Police answered scores of calls within the first minutes after the tremor.

"I think everybody in Crossville called," said police dispatcher Al Clemons. "I didn't keep count but we have 1,400 people here and I think every one called."

Carolyn Parker of Gadsden said the earthquake woke her up.

"My husband jumped out of bed," she told WSB-TV. "He said he thought it was like the end of the world or something. He ran outside."