Churches back relief efforts in quake-hit Great Lakes region of Africa

By agency reporter
February 6, 2008

As part of a global coalition of church bodies, the UK international development agency Christian Aid is working with the United Nations to assess the needs of the people of East Africa's Great Lakes region after it was struck by a major earthquake leaving 39 people dead.

Some 300 people were also reported injured after the series of quakes hit the Great Lakes districts of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR) in the early hours of Sunday 3 February 2008.

The epicentre of a quake measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale was about 20 km north of Bukavu on the southern tip of Lake Kivu in the DRC; another measuring 5.0 was in densely-populated southern Rwanda.

"I was having a cup of tea on the balcony when I suddenly felt the entire house tilt towards the lake," said Gilbert Bisimwa, Christian Aid’s head of the Bukavu office.

"My wife starting crying, thinking that the children were trapped under the falling bricks. We grabbed the children and raced out of the house. We stayed away from the house and had to spend the night with our neighbours in the street", he continued.

The UN force based in Bukavu has closed its office; only personnel working in containers can return to their offices. All houses with cracks in their walls will have to be inspected before people can return home.

In Rwanda, the town of Cynagugu near the DRC border was worst affected. Eighteen people were airlifted to hospital in the capital Kigali and health staff have been mobilised from around the country.

Christian Aid’s Rwanda office has now sent an assessment team to the region.

Geologists say the quake was due to the shifting of tectonic plates in the western Rift Valley and was not associated with volcanic activity.

In December 2005 the region was racked by a powerful 6.5 earthquake.

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