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Rescuers search for quake survivors in Africa

Rescuers in fishing boats searched for survivors Tuesday in a central African lake at the epicenter of a strong earthquake that killed at least four people.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Rescuers in fishing boats searched for survivors Tuesday in a central African lake at the epicenter of a strong earthquake that killed at least four people.

On shore, some of the newly homeless wondered why disaster had again struck their destitute region, already devastated by years of civil war.

Monday’s quake had a magnitude of 6.8, strong enough to cause widespread heavy damage. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered six miles below the surface of Lake Tanganyika, between Congo and Tanzania. Two small aftershocks rippled across the region overnight.

The dead included a child who died overnight after his father fell on him during the temblor in the Congolese lakeside town of Kalemie, the population center closet to the heart of the earthquake, a Congolese official said.

Homes destroyed
Houses continued to crumble Tuesday in a poor neighborhood in Kalemie, about 35 miles from Lake Tanganyika. In one, Annie Annaseasie sat on a bed cradling the youngest of her seven children.

Annaseasie, 35, said her house was repeatedly looted during Congo’s 1998-2002 civil war and now she earns about $1 a day selling charcoal for cooking. She has little money for food or clothing. Now her home is ruined.

“I don’t own enough to even feed my children, how can I rebuild my wall? Am I supposed to sleep with the whole town watching me?” she asked. “Why did this happen to us?”

Nearby, Masodi Songolo searched for clothing for his 2-month-old brother, who was seriously injured by debris from a brick wall. The 20-year-old student said he only recently returned to Kalemie after fleeing during the war.

“First I lived through a war, now I come back and it seems if nature wants to destroy my hard work again,” he said. “It seems like my life is a disaster.”

The impoverished region is home to tens of thousands of people displaced by war and economic collapse in Congo and Burundi. Members of a 15,000-member U.N. peacekeeping mission were helping with quake response Tuesday and U.N. staff were assessing damage.

Searching for victims
Congolese official Rigobert Tshimanga said rescue workers in fishing vessels were looking for fishermen and others who would have been on the water during the quake.

U.N. spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux said he knew of three people injured in Kalemie, where authorities Tuesday told people not to stay in damaged buildings.

Congo is emerging from a five-year war that drew in six nations and left nearly 4 million people dead, most through disease and hunger. Peacekeepers are trying to help a transitional government extend its authority across the country and prepare for elections scheduled for next year.

In Tanzania, authorities said they were waiting for casualty reports from remote parts of the country.

The quake was felt as far away as Nairobi, Kenya, some 600 miles northeast of Lake Tanganyika.