Today marks the 20th anniversary of an earthquake measuring at 4.6 on the Richter scale and felt in nine states, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The quake happened at 3:59 a.m. on April 29, 2003, abruptly waking most bleary-eyed residents in a frightening state of confusion as framed family pictures fell from walls and dishes rattled inside cabinets.

Was it a tornado? Had the train derailed? Did a chemical truck slam into Joe’s Truck Stop, resulting in a huge explosion? The last thing most people thought of were seismic waves radiating in all directions from an epicenter 15 miles beneath County Road 621 near DeSoto State Park.

"I sat straight up in my bed," said Lucille Simpson. She worked at a store in Fort Payne that had bottles and cans knocked off shelves. "My husband said, 'That's a tornado,' but [others] thought it was an airplane or a bomb."

"I thought a tree fell on my house," recalled David Walker, "or perhaps a truck slamming into Joe's Truck Stop, but the commotion lasted too long to be an explosion."

Walker, who was Fort Payne’s police chief at that time, said, “Our phone system was absolutely overloaded. This shut down 9-1-1. One of our officers has lived in California, and he had never heard one like that. The quake had an explosion sound, a deep rumbling that went on for several seconds."

Records show the tremors lasted as much as 45 seconds in some areas.

Steve Nelson of Fort Payne said a large television came crashing out of an entertainment center, the oven was jarred from its hole and the foundation of his home developed a crack running the entire length.

"My back wall is about to fall out and I found out this morning I needed to specifically buy earthquake insurance for this to be covered," Nelson said. "I'm kind of sick about it. My front brick steps are caved in too."

An earthquake is what happens when two blocks of the earth suddenly slip past each other. When the force pushing the blocks becomes stronger than the friction holding them together, the blocks finally give way and slip past each other. This sudden movement releases a tremendous amount of energy that has been building up over time. When the energy is released, it spreads out in all directions, just like ripples spreading on a pond when a stone is tossed into it.

Tammy Todd was working in Krystal that Tuesday morning when the quake hit.

"I usually don't get scared by much, but this did the job," Todd said. "It shook the building, and we went outside. The restaurant was just rocking back and forth."

Tonya Wells of Fort Payne said her little boy

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