December 5, 2005

Strong Earthquake Shakes East Africa

By Guled Mohammed

NAIROBI -- A strong earthquake shook East Africa on Monday in the Lake Tanganyika region frightening people from Congo to Kenya but causing little damage, according to initial reports.

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, said they saw buildings shake but had not seen any immediate damage in the town.

"Yes, it was very strong, everything shook for about 10 seconds. I saw buildings shaking," Francois Xavier, a local journalist, told Reuters.

Michel Bonnardeaux, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Kinshasa, told Reuters after speaking to colleagues in Kalemie that the United Nations would carry out an evaluation of poorer neighborhoods to see if they had been affected by the quake.

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 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.