SIKESTON, Mo. – A magnitude 4.0 earthquake struck early Tuesday in the southeast corner Missouri, waking up residents in as many as 12 other surrounding states.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) said the quake hit at 3:58am local time (4:58am ET). Its epicenter was located a shallow 3.1 miles (5km) underground, about 150 miles (240km) south of St. Louis, near the New Madrid fault line.
Hundreds reported feeling the quake in Missouri, according to the USGS, with the most significant shaking occurring in Sikeston, a small city about nine miles away from the epicenter.
Outside of Missouri, the temblor was felt in Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas and Indiana. Residents also reported feeling the ground shake in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Kansas and Oklahoma.
Save for a few reports of items falling off shelves and windows cracking, the rumbling caused no real damage.
But experts said it serves as an important reminder of how earthquakes in the eastern part of the US, though they occur more rarely, have the potential to cause damage over a much wider region than on the West Coast.
The earth's deep crust in the eastern US is "very hard, cold and dense like a slab of concrete," allowing seismic waves to travel a much greater distance than in the west, said Gary Patterson of the Center for Earthquake Research and Information (CERI) at the University of Memphis.
East Coasters and Midwesterners were reminded of that in August when a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in Mineral, Va., shook buildings as far away as New York and Chicago.
Magnitude 4.0 quakes are not uncommon along the New Madrid fault line, with about a dozen occurring over the last decade, Patterson said. And the one that struck early Tuesday does not necessarily change the forecast for future earthquakes in the area.
Seismologists estimate there is a 25 to 40 percent chance a magnitude 6.0 or greater earthquake will strike the region in the next 50 years, Patterson said, and just a seven to 10 percent probability a massive 7.5 to 8.0 magnitude temblor will occur within the next half-century.
Tuesday's shaking comes nearly 200 years to the day after a powerful earthquake in nearly the same spot destroyed New Madrid, Mo., and heavily damaged St. Louis.
The Feb. 7, 1812 quake, which seismologists today guess was about 7.7 in magnitude, reportedly cracked sidewalks in Washington, D.C., and caused church bells to ring as far away as Boston and Toronto. It was the last in a series of four earthquakes that struck the region from December 1811 to February 1812.