Somewhere beneath southeastern Missouri, the Earth shrugged its shoulders Wednesday. The result: an earthquake measuring 4.6 on the Richter scale.
As quakes go, this one went quickly and with little fuss. It lasted only about 10 seconds, causing no injuries and little damage, officials said.But it sent jitters through a region already made jumpy by predictions of a big quake along the New Madrid Fault in December.
The quake struck at 7:19 a.m. MDT, said St. Louis University's Sean-Thomas Morrissey, who pegged the scale at 4.6.
The quake's epicenter - about 10 miles southwest of Cape Girardeau - was not on the New Madrid Fault but was a few miles west, said Morrissey, a geophysicist.
The earthquake's rumblings traveled through seven states - Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.
The quake caused minor damage in small towns around the epicenter, breaking dishes, knocking pictures off walls and pitching contents from cabinets and shelves.
Near Kelso, Mo., the quake broke several pieces of one woman's collection of 300 ceramic pigs.
"There was a rumbling noise like a heavy truck," said David Stewart, director of the Center for Earthquake Studies at Southeast Missouri State University, in Cape Girardeau.
Stewart, who was in a classroom at the time, said, "I shouted, it's an earthquake,' and everybody ducked under their desks."
Scientists agreed that Wednesday's tremor had nothing to do with the December prediction, made by Iben Browning of New Mexico.
Browning has forecast a 50-50 chance of an earthquake measuring at least 7.0 along the New Madrid Fault between Dec. 1 and Dec. 5.
Most scientists who specialize in earthquakes have dismissed Browning's forecast as ridiculous. They put the chance of a quake measuring at least 6.0 at 50-50 sometime in the next decade.
If Wednesday's quake fell far short, it had its moments. In Perry County, Mo., sheriff's dispatcher Ryan Worthington had a report that the second floor in one house had pulled away from the wall about a foot.
Elsewhere, the quake spilled coffee, rattled windows and gently shook couches and chairs.
Zanda Cepicky of south St. Louis County said she knew right away what the rattling window in her dining room meant.
"I had just made a fresh cup of coffee and had sat down at the kitchen table," said Cepicky. "My dishes rattled, my kitchen table vibrated and my chair vibrated. It was just enough shake in my cup that it spilled my coffee."
Others felt little or nothing.
More than anything, the quake seemed to rattle nerves. New Mexico's Browning had said some quakes might occur on Oct. 9 or Nov. 6., in advance of the big one he's saying might happen in December.
But Wednesday's tremor "was just another earthquake," said William Schmieder, a geophysicist with the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo.
And St. Louis University's Morrissey said: "We love the fact that everybody is paying attention to earthquake preparation - but this Chicken Little stuff has got to stop."
Although Wednesday's quake was off the New Madrid Fault proper, it fell within the fault zone. Each year, about 200 measurable quakes occur in that zone, Stewart said. But only about three a year pack enough power to be felt.
In fact, before Wednesday, three were felt this year: a 2.8 quake on Jan. 9, a 3.1 on Aug. 7, and a 3.4 on Aug. 29.