December 5, 2005

Strong earthquake shakes East Africa, one dead

By Guled Mohammed

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A strong earthquake jolted Africa's
Great Lakes region on Monday, killing at least one person in
Congo's remote east and rattling regional capitals.

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 975 km (600 miles)
southwest of the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

Besides Kenya and Congo, tremors were felt in Burundi,
Rwanda and Tanzania, impoverished countries connected by a
string of lakes and mountains, many of them active volcanoes.

Residents of Kalemie, an eastern Congolese town on the
shores of Lake Tanganyika with a population of 200,000 people,
reported at least one death and several injuries and said
mud-brick houses had collapsed in poor neighborhoods.

"A child died when the house he was in collapsed during the
earthquake. Several other people have broken limbs and are in
hospital. We'll see in the hours that come if more come to
hospitals," Kalemie community leader Fidel Muteba said.

It was the first fatal seismic event in the region since
2002 when Africa's deadliest eruption in 25 years swept away
thousands of homes and killed 25 people after the 3,469-meter
(11,380-foot) Mount Nyiragongo exploded near the eastern Congo
town of Goma.

Hundreds of people evacuated office buildings in the center
of Nairobi on Monday after the tremors and the streets were
clogged with people trying to drive away from the city center.

"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.

"We actually saw the building shaking and seats moving in
the building," said Peter Ragula, 37, a Nairobi salesman.

"People were saying they were dying & I thought I was sick
at first, I thought I was very dizzy, but I realized seats were
moving and I realized there must have been a problem."

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, 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.

In Kigali, internet cafe attendant Abdul Hamidou said: "The
desktop screens were moving, my chair was shaking making me
feel dizzy, and all of a sudden I saw customers running out."

"We all felt it and came out of the building. I was seated
on my chair and felt it moving, things were shaking
everywhere," said a civil servant in Bukoba in Tanzania's
Kagera province.

Africa's most active volcanoes are set amid the Rift
Valley, a vast geological and geographical feature that runs
north to south for 5,000 km (3,100 miles) along the earth's
crust from northern Syria to central Mozambique.