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A moderate earthquake shook parts of six states Wednesday, causing no major damage but rattling the nerves of residents along the New Madrid Fault who have been told there could be a big quake in December.

For months, people along the seismic zone have been worrying about a scientist's controversial prediction that there's a 50-50 chance for a major quake on or about Dec. 3.But earthquake experts said Wednesday's quake didn't lend any support to the December prediction.

``This is no cause for additional alarm, but what it does tell us is that we live in earthquake country,' said David Stewart, director of the Center for Earthquake Studies in Cape Girardeau. ``We should consider this a good drill for what someday will be the real thing.'

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake measured 4.6 on the Richter scale.

In 1811-1812, a series of quakes estimated at up to 8 on the Richter scale struck the New Madrid region, causing the Mississippi River to appear to flow backward and forming Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee. The tremors rang church bells in Washington, more than 850 miles away.

The Mexico City earthquake in 1985 measured 8.1. Last October's earthquake in San Francisco measured 7.1.

Wednesday's earthquake didn't have such dramatic effects, but it was felt in parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana.

The New Madrid Fault runs fromMarked Tree, Ark., across southeastern Missouri to southern Illinois and has hundreds of small quakes every year. It's named for the town of New Madrid, about 40 miles south of New Hamburg and 140 miles southeast of St. Louis.

On most peoples' minds Wednesday was the forecast by Iben Browning that there is a 50-50 chance of an earthquake measuring 7.0 or greater on or about Dec. 3. Browning was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Browning, a climatologist and business consultant from Sandia Park, N.M., has said that tidal forces coming to a head on or about Dec. 3 could unleash various kinds of geological violence.

Earthquake experts have for the most part denounced his theory.

But school has been canceled for Dec. 3 in at least one district in Arkansas. Vacations by city employees in Carbondale, Ill., have been prohibited that week.

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