Earthquake causes Southeast to shake, rattle and roll

By Ed Brock

At two minutes to 5 a.m. Tuesday, Larry Bryant was sitting in an easy chair in the living room of his Stockbridge home when the big one hit.

"All of a sudden I heard this crazy sound, like it was in my carport," Bryant said. "Then I saw two pictures shaking, then it went through my chair ? It was like being caught on an overpass bridge when a big truck goes by."

Bryant listened as the vibration passed down the hall and through the rest of his house.

What Bryant and many other Clayton County residents felt was a 4.9 magnitude earthquake that originated in Fort Payne, Ala. and sent tremors through seven Southern states.

"We were lying there in bed and I thought it was thunder," said Hunter Morgan of Griffin. "(Morgan's wife) Kim grabbed my arm and asked if I heard it."

Arnold Curtis' wife Denise had a different explanation when the quake rolled under their College Park home.

"She said honey, I swear I thought you fell out of the bed," Curtis said.

Kathryn Wood of Rex felt it, too.

"The windows were just shaking, it was so weird," Wood said.

Authorities didn't report any serious injuries or major damage from the earthquake, which woke up Fort Payne, near its center in northeast Alabama, about 4 a.m. local time. Tying the record magnitude for Alabama, it was also felt in Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Damages were limited to broken plates, some cracked foundations, scattered power outages, crumbling chimneys and several thousand crooked wall paintings.

There were no reports of damage in Clayton County, said John Dalton, deputy director of the county's emergency management agency. He got a call about the quake about 10 minutes after it occurred.

"I said, "Hmm, unusual, I better go to the office,'" Dalton said.

There was a heavy volume of calls to the county's 911 dispatchers for about a half an hour after the quake, Dalton said.

Earthquakes are uncommon in the Southeast, and few people in the area had experienced one before. This tremor was centered near Mentone, a few miles from Fort Payne, near the Alabama-Georgia line.

The last earthquake in the region was Dec. 8, 2001, when a 3.9 magnitude temblor shook the Huntsville area. The previous largest earthquake recorded in Alabama was magnitude 4.9 in 1997, centered in south Alabama's Escambia County. Georgia previous quake of this size was a 4.4 magnitude quake in Tyrone in 1964.

This quake was centered near a stretch of Interstate 59 that crosses through northeast Alabama, the northwest tip of Georgia and into Chattanooga, Tenn.

"At 4.9, you're getting into good shaking territory," said Butch Kinerney, a spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va.

Earthquakes are caused when tectonic plates, the huge slabs of stone and earth on which continents rest and which float on the Earth's molten mantle, shift against each other, releasing vibrations.

The Associated Press contributed to this process.