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Small earthquake shakes the South

The earthquake's epicenter was along the Georgia-Alabama border, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The earthquake's epicenter was along the Georgia-Alabama border, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A rare earthquake measuring magnitude 4.9 shook the South early Tuesday, waking up people from Mississippi to North Carolina, but the tremor failed to inflict significant damage, bleary-eyed residents and officials said.

The epicenter of the tremor was about 37 miles southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee, along the border of Georgia and Alabama, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Web site. It struck just before 5 a.m. EDT.

Southeastern Kentucky, northeastern Mississippi and the western parts of North and South Carolina also felt the tremor, according to the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado. Six minor aftershocks also were reported in the 2.0 to 2.5 range, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

"This is not a seismically active area. It's unusual for the region to be shaken that way," said Butch Kinerney, a U.S. Geological Survey spokesman.

Beverly Daniel, acting director of Cherokee County, Alabama's Emergency Management Agency, said power outages were reported and a few trees down.

"It felt like an explosion. We've got aftershocks," she said.

No injuries were reported, but police said there also have been power outages around Sand Rock, Alabama, and Lookout Mountain, which spans Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia.

"A few trailers shook out their foundations. .. but there are no reports of major damage or injuries," said Sabrina Harris, director of DeKalb County, Alabama's 911 department.

Police in metro Atlanta said they got several calls from concerned residents.

"My body is shaking because it was so frightening," said Susan Martin of Marietta, an Atlanta suburb. "The shaking of my bed and the shaking of my house woke me out of a dead sleep."

Martin, who lives in what she describes as a sturdy brick house, said she felt two series of rumbles.

"First I thought it was thunder. My house was shaking for 10 or 15 seconds. I was quick to get up and see if it was a tornado. .. I went to the window, but heard no wind and no rain. .. I called 911 and they asked me, 'Are you calling about the earthquake?' "

"We've had hundreds of calls of people saying the tremors knocked pictures off walls, and a couple said their windows were cracked," said Herbert Dodd, head of emergency services in Chattooga County, Georgia, not far from the epicenter on the Georgia-Alabama border.

According to a Web site affiliated with Georgia Tech, there appear to be two minor faults in northwest Georgia, the Cartersville and Rome faults; one that runs more or less along the Chattahoochee River; and two more in Central Georgia.

"It's not terribly unusual. The southeast Tennessee seismic zone, which actually extends from that area up toward Knoxville, is probably the second most active area in the Eastern United States," said Georgia Tech professor Tim Long, who works in the school's earthquake monitoring lab.

"We have events like this about every 10 to 20 years. So far they have not been serious. There's potential for a larger event," Long said.

"It was felt widely. These earthquakes in this area are typically deeper focus. That is they're down 20 to 30 kilometers in the Earth's crust. So they're felt over a wide area but not as strongly as some other types of earthquakes."

Long said the building code isn't as strict in the Southeast as it is on the West Coast. He said there was not a statutory mandate to build to code until about 10 or 15 years ago, but that buildings constructed since then should be safe.

John Bellini, a U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist, said: "We would expect items knocked from the shelves, pictures knocked off the walls, people waking up. We wouldn't expect any casualties.

"In California, you get something like this once every month. In the East, it's relatively uncommon but not unheard of."

The largest earthquake in Alabama occurred north of Birmingham in October 1916. It registered a magnitude of 5.1. Georgia's largest earthquake was also in 1916, about 30 miles southeast of Atlanta. It registered a magnitude of 4.1.

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