Houses shook and residents reported hearing a ‘thunderous noise’ as a strong tremor struck a wide area around Gatwick Airport at 3.42am. It was followed by two smaller tremors at 3.51am and 4.46am.
Reports of buildings shaking and furniture moving were made across an area from west of Epsom in Surrey, to Horley, Charlwood, Crawley, Horsham and Southwater.
The earthquake is the strongest ever to hit the region. The British Geological Survey recorded a magnitude of 3.1.
The latest quake is the fourth this year and follows seven eqrthquakes recorded in the same area over a four-month period last year - the first ever earthquakes recorded in this part of Britain.
Former teacher Geraint Thomas, a Crawley borough councillor, who lives in Ifield, Crawley, said of the latest tremor this morning: “I was woken by a deep rumbling sound and feeling. It seemed to be coming from below rather than the air.”
Linda Battson, who lives in West Green, Crawley, said she was reading in bed. “All of sudden there was a thundering noise and the bedroom was shaking.
“The cat who was at the end of the bed dived under it. My son, who is 22, came out of his bedroom and asked what was going on? I thought my daughter had fallen out of bed, but as she hadn’t, we then reasoned it must have been a tremor.”
Mum of two Anita Morton, from Langley Green, Crawley, said: “I was awoken by a very loud thud followed by the house shaking. My initial thought was that something had crashed into the house!”
Laura Ward, from Bewbush, Crawley, reported: “I was Laying in bed watching TV when I felt my whole house move backwards and forwards for no longer than a few seconds. It caused the headboard to my bed to hit the wall with a loud thud.”
Fabienne Salmon, from Ifield, said she was woken by the tremors which, she said, lasted for about seven to 10 seconds “with the house shaking very badly”, adding: “Even my cat next to me fast asleep woke up meowing. It was SO shaking and SO loud that I’m still shaking from shock.”
Peter Mills, also from Ifield, said both he and his wife “woke with a start to hear/feel the house shake, and it takes quite a lot to wake me up. My wife immediately said it must be an earthquake.”
A Horsham woman took to Twitter to express her concern. “I thought something large had just landed on the roof above our bedroom. Either that or someone was actually in our loft. Never imagined that it might be an earthquake.”
Karen Dunn, from Northgate in Crawley, said: “It was the oddest feeling. I jolted awake and thought someone was breaking into the house so went downstairs to check. My other half slept through it - but he slept through the 1987 hurricane, so that was no surprise!”
Another woman messaged on Twitter: “#earthquake #horsham woke me in Christ’s Hospital near Horsham. Bed shaking, blinds moving.”
But some saw the funny side. One person set up a spoof ‘JustGiving’ crowdfunding appeal to ‘help raise £1,000 to victims of the Crawley Earthquake.’
The earthquake is the fourth to have hit the region since February 14. When the first quake struck people reported ‘everything moving forwards and backwards’ in areas ranging around Dorking, Gatwick, Crawley, Horley, Burstow and Smallfield.
Minutes later a second tremor was recorded in the same area, according to the British Geological Survey which monitors earthquakes around the world.
The quakes have prompted a call for action from south east MEP Keith Taylor. He says a new scienticic study from the University of Edinburgh suggests that there may be a connection between the earthquakes and oil drilling at Horse Hill, north of Gatwick.
However, last year the British Geological Survey installed earthquake sensors in the area and says that analysis showed that ‘the events are unlikely to have been induced.’