December 5, 2005

Death and damage as strong quake shakes East Africa

By Guled Mohammed

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A strong earthquake shook East Africa
on Monday in the Lake Tanganyika region killing people and
damaging buildings at its center, early reports said.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that a 6.8 magnitude
quake struck near the town of Kalemie in the Democratic
Republic of Congo at 1219 GMT, some 600 miles southwest of
Nairobi. Besides Kenya and Congo, tremors were reported in
Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania.

Residents of Kalemie, an eastern Congolese town on the
shores of Lake Tanganyika with a population of 200,000 people,
reported deaths and injuries, a United Nations official said.

"There is quite a lot of damage to these poorly constructed
houses. Residents told us that some people had died and others
were injured but we do not have any figures yet," Michel
Bonnardeaux, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination
of Humanitarian Affairs in Kinshasa, told Reuters.

A local community leader said he had also heard of
casualties. "I have heard of at least one death and many
injuries, but we need to check more (in poor neighborhoods)
where houses have been damaged," Fidel Muteba said.

Hundreds of people evacuated office buildings in the center
of Nairobi after the earth shook and the streets were clogged
with people trying to drive from the central business district.

"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 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," Bujumbura 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 1,864 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.