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My Very First Earthquake

Cyangugu, in southwest Rwanda -- the epicenter of this morning's earthquake

Until this morning I've never experienced an earthquake.

At 9:43 AM, as I was planning how to spend my Sunday the dining room hutch, floors, and window panes began rattling. I had just woken to the distant chorus of church-goers singing hymns in kinyarwanda. I'm such a sucker for good Christian music -- bluegrass, gospel, and now kinyarwanda hymns. Hearing the soulful music is the only time when I actually entertain the idea of conversion. In a nation as Christian as this one, with a fast-growing shift away from Catholicism to evangelical churches, I was trying to decide which church invitation to accept. I could join a new friend at the Assembly of God church this afternoon, or I could accompany a women who heads one of the Kigali prisons to the Zionist church this evening. I'm looking forward to entering this world of Rwanda that I haven't seen yet. I plan to bring my mini-disc recorder and make a field recording of the music.

My thoughts were interrupted by the slight rocking of the ground beneath my feet. Last night at dinner at Restaurant Hellenique, I had been talking to some NGOs about efforts underway to harness the methane gas from the volcano outside of Goma to provide electricity for the region. So already volcanos and plates were on my mind. But I've never thought of this area as particularly proned to quakes.

The shaking we felt here pales to what people in the epicenter, 300 km away in Cyangugu felt.

The strangest thing to me is that it's now been nearly three hours since the earthquake, yet there are still no news reports -- only a mention on two geological survey sites. Registering at a magnitude of 6.1 on the Richter scale, it's hardly insubstantial. The area where it occurred is densely populated. Surely there's been a fair amount of damage.


KIGALI (AFP) - At least 23 people died Sunday in western Rwanda after a strong earthquake shook several countries in Africa's Great Lakes region, Radio Rwanda reported.
[from Rwanda Radio]

For more about the cause of earthquakes in this region, read on.

On October 24, 2002 there was a earthquake with a magnitude of 6.2 in the same region.

At the time at least two people were killed and building walls were cracked at Goma. Several buildings were destroyed at Lwiro and Mugeri. Walls were also cracked at Bukavu, Congo (Kinshasa) and Kigali, Rawanda. This earthquake was followed by a magnitude 5.5 aftershock one hour later at 9:12 AM local time in Congo (Kinshasa).

This shallow earthquake occurred in the East African Rift System. The two sides of the rift are diverging at a rate of 3 - 5 millimeters per year (0.1 - 0.2 inches per year). The majority of earthquakes in the rift occur as the result of normal faulting.

The East African Rift zone is moderately seismic. Over the past 30 years an average of about five magnitude 4.5 or greater earthquakes per year occurred in the rift zone. Earthquake depths in this region range from the surface to depths of 28 miles (46 kilometers).

[from USGS]


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