The earthquake was centered 8 miles west of Whitesburg, Ky., and 46 miles north-northwest of Kingsport, Tenn., the U.S. Geological Survey reported. It hit just after noon.
An earthquake in the 4.0-4.9 range is considered light, strong enough to be felt but unlikely to cause significant damage. Craig Dixon, a miner, lives about 2 miles from the epicenter and said the shaking cracked the foundations in some of his neighbors' homes.
"I was sitting at home, on my computer, my wife was feeding the dogs, when it sounded like a 747 was crashing into the house," Dixon told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Everything in the house started shaking and rattling for about 15 seconds."
He added that the quake was followed by "hundreds of spiders and bugs that came out of the ground and started climbing on the outside of the house."
State Police Dispatcher Ryan Adams said there were reports of broken ceramic figurines and of pictures falling from the wall.
The USGS said the quake was felt as far away as Georgia.
Chris Dixon, head meteorologist at WKYT-TV in Lexington, said a 5.2-magnitude earthquake hit Kentucky in 1980. The area is generally not considered seismically active, although four earthquakes, all believed to have been over magnitude 7, struck near New Madrid in what is now Missouri in late 1811 and early 1812.