The quake, which had a preliminary magnitude of 4.9, struck around 5 a.m. and was centered near Fort Payne, Ala., close to the Georgia line.
The quake was felt in seven states, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
"It woke a lot of people up, felt over a considerably large area, but we do not know of any damage being reported at this time," said John Minsch of the U.S. Geological Survey.
"I was home. I heard like a loud rumble. Stuff fell off my walls and busted and shattered all over my floors," Cindy, a cook at the Big Time Cafe in Fort Payne, Ala., told CBS Radio News. "It was just a major vibration, like a bomb or something had exploded under your feet and my whole trailer was a-rockin'."
The same was true in Atlanta, about 160 miles from the epicenter.
"My whole house shook. I could feel the whole wave go north to south," said Barry Goodno, a Georgia Tech structural engineering professor who specializes in earthquakes. "Everything was rattling through the room. It was not what I expected in Georgia.
"It's the kind of motion that could weaken structures or cause further damage," Goodno said. "It's not something to be overlooked. This could be a precursor, it could be a one-time release of energy, it could be an indication of things to come for several weeks."
Carolyn Parker of Gadsden, Ala., says the earthquake lasted about 45 seconds and woke her up.
"My husband jumped out of bed," she told a local television station. "He said he thought it was like the end of the world or something. He ran outside."
Nick Jebeles of Remlap, Ala., said he and his wife also were awakened.
"I went out on my back porch because I thought it was a tornado, but the weather was fine," he said.
In Kentucky, state police said callers reported the tremor lasted from seven to eight seconds. In Tennessee, reports came from people in several counties, reporting that the quake was felt as a shudder and heard as a low rolling, like thunder.