December 5, 2005

Strong earthquake shakes East Africa: USGS

By Guled Mohammed

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A strong earthquake shook East Africa
on Monday in the Lake Tanganyika region, the U.S. Geological
Survey (USGS) said on its web site.

The USGS said the 6.8 magnitude quake struck at 1219 GMT in
a region it named as Congo-Tanzania and placed it 34 miles
southeast of the town of Kalemie in the Democratic Republic of
Congo and 975 km southwest of Nairobi.

Hundreds of people evacuated office buildings in the center
of Nairobi after the earth shook and waited for any information
about what was going on.

"People came running down -- scared -- because you don't
know what it is. You're moving this way and that," said Tabitha
Nyambati, demonstrating how the tremor made her sway.

The streets were clogged with people trying to leave the
central business district by car and the Kenyan meteorological
office said there were no reports of deaths so far.

"We've not received any information on what damage the
tremor caused or whether there were any fatalities," Met
official Peter Abende told Nation Television.

"It's rare to get tremors of this magnitude," he added.

The USGS site said a 6.5 magnitude quake hit close by in
October 2000, injuring seven people and causing little damage.

"A quake of this kind could easily produce significant
damage, but I wonder what kind of infrastructure they have
there in the region. There may not have been much to destroy,"
said Dr Andrzej Kijko, head of seismology unit at South
Africa's Council for Geoscience.

Officials in Tanzania said the tremor was felt there but
that they had received no reports of any injuries.

"We felt a tremor at about 3:20 p.m., but that is all we've
had. I have no reports on injuries or damages in my region,"
said Abdalah Mssika, regional police commander for the
Shinyanga region bordering Lake Victoria.

The quake was also felt in the Rwandan capital Kigali,
which lies directly north on a USGS map and by residents in
Burundi's capital of Bujumbura.

"We felt the ground shake," taxi driver Simeon Nduwimana
told Reuters by telephone, adding that the situation was now
normal and he had not seen any damaged buildings.

The East African Rift System is a 31-37 miles wide zone of
active volcanics and faulting that extends north-south in
eastern Africa for more than 1864 miles from Ethiopia in the
north to Zambezi in the south, the USGS said on its Web site.

It is a rare example of an active continental rift zone,
where a continental plate is attempting to split into two
plates which are moving away from one another.