A powerful earthquake Monday toppled dozens of homes and buried children in rubble in eastern Congo, killing at least two people in a region already beset by chronic violence and grinding poverty.
The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 6.8, struck at 2:20 p.m. and was centered beneath Lake Tanganyika on the Congo-Tanzania border, about 600 miles southwest of Nairobi, Kenya, the U.S. Geological Survey said on its Web site.
“Dozens of houses have collapsed, several children were buried by the roofs of their houses,” said Dr. Jean-Donne Owali, a Congolese humanitarian worker in the lakeside city of Kalemie, Congo, about 35 miles from the epicenter.
Owali said at least two people had died of injuries at his clinic. He said he saw children bleeding from head injuries after their mud-and-thatch homes collapsed.
U.N. spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux said a child was killed in the city when two houses and a church “crumbled.” Three people were wounded. It was not immediately clear if the child was one of the two people Owali reported killed.
Bonnardeaux said most of the injuries in the area were from falling zinc and steel roofs. The desperately poor region also has camps for tens of thousands of refugees from wars and economic collapse in Congo and Burundi.
The quake sent panicked people running from buildings in Kigoma, the main Tanzanian transport hub on the shores of Lake Tanganyika about 90 miles from the epicenter, said regional commissioner Elmon Mahawa. Authorities were waiting for police stations in remote parts of the country to report on any casualties.
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.
“We felt the tremor in our offices. People fled their buildings to save their lives, but so far we have no reports of casualties,” said Elmon Mahawa, the regional commissioner for Kigoma, a Tanzanian town on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.
Six miles below the surface
The USGS said the quake was located about six miles below the surface, and shook the ground in at least three Kenyan towns, including Nairobi. It also was felt in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa. In Bujumbura, the capital of the central African nation of Burundi, an Associated Press reporter felt the three-story building sway in two waves of the quake.
“A quake of this kind could easily produce significant damage, but I wonder what kind of infrastructure they have there in the region,” said Dr Andrzej Kijko, head of seismology unit at South Africa’s Council for Geoscience. “There may not have been much to destroy.”
Henri Burgard, U.N. spokesman in the Congolese town of Uvira, said the quake lasted 30 seconds. “The buildings shook quite strongly. We have no reports of deaths so far,” he said.
“We felt the ground shake,” taxi driver Simeon Nduwimana told Reuters by telephone. But he said the situation was now normal and he had not seen any buildings damaged.
The region is located along the Great Rift Valley, which runs for 3,000 miles between Syria and Mozambique and passes through the Dead Sea, below Jerusalem's eastern hills.
The East African Rift System is an approximately 35-mile-wide zone of active volcanics and faulting that extends north-south in eastern Africa for more than 1,860 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.