A small earthquake has taken place directly on the New Madrid Seismic Fault; the most active fault east of the Rocky Mountains. The quake was centered 5.6 miles north of New Madrid, MO at a (shallow) depth of 9.5 miles. Whether this is a fore-shock of a coming larger quake, is tough to tell. But folks in the Geological profession know that the New Madrid Fault has, in the distant past, caused horrific earthquakes that killed many people. In one quake, the ground shifted to much, it actually caused sections of the Mississippi River to run backwards for hours! If such a quake struck today, with all the development which has taken place, the toll would be staggering.
The New Madrid seismic zone of southeast Missouri and adjacent States is the most seismically active in North America east of the Rockies. During the winter of 1811-1812 three very large earthquakes devastated the area and were felt throughout most of the Nation. They occurred a few weeks apart on December 16, January 23, and February 7. Hundreds of aftershocks, some severely damaging by themselves, continued for years. Prehistoric earthquakes similar in size to those of 1811-1812 occurred in the middle 1400's and around 900 A.D. Strong, damaging earthquakes struck the southwestern end of the seismic zone near Marked Tree, Arkansas in 1843 (magnitude 6.3), and the northeastern end near Charleston, Missouri in 1895 (magnitude 6.6). Since 1900, moderately damaging earthquakes have struck the seismic zone every few decades. About twice a year people feel still smaller earthquakes that do not cause damage.
Earthquakes in the central and eastern U.S. are typically felt over a much broader region than in the western U.S. East of the Rockies, an earthquake can be felt over an area as much as ten times larger than a similar magnitude earthquake on the west coast. A magnitude 4.0 eastern U.S. earthquake typically can be felt at many places as far as 100 km (60 mi) from where it occurred, and it infrequently causes damage near its source. A magnitude 5.5 eastern U.S. earthquake usually can be felt as far as 500 km (300 mi) from where it occurred, and sometimes causes damage as far away as 40 km (25 mi).