Rescue workers in fishing boats searched Tuesday for survivors in a central African lake that was the epicenter of a deadly earthquake, while U.N. staff assessed damage on shore. At least three people, including a child, were reported killed in Monday's quake, which the U.S. Geological Survey said had a magnitude of 6.8, strong enough to cause widespread and heavy damage, and said was centered 10 kilometers (six miles) below the surface of Lake Tanganyika, between Congo and Tanzania. Two small aftershocks rippled across the region overnight.
The impoverished region is home to tens of thousands displaced by wars and economic collapse in Congo and Burundi. Members of a 15,000-person U.N. peacekeeping mission were helping with quake response Tuesday.
Rigobert Tshimanga, a top Congo official in the region, said rescue workers in fishing vessels were looking for fishermen and others who would have been on the water during Monday's mid-afternoon quake. "There were some people who were doing their activities on the lake at the moment the quake hit, but until now we haven't registered any victims," he said by telephone from the region.
The quake killed at least three, including a small child that died in the night after his father fell on him when the shocks hit the Congo lakeside town of Kalemie, 55 kilometers (35 miles) from the epicenter, said Tshimanga.
In Kalemie, U.N. humanitarian workers and peacekeepers were assessing the needs of citizens in Kalemie, said U.N. spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux. Bonnardeaux confirmed one dead and three injured, but said nighttime aftershocks could have caused houses to fall on their inhabitants. Authorities on Tuesday told Kalemie's people not to stay in structures damaged in the quake.
"The death toll is at risk of increasing, even if it won't be great," Bonnardeaux said.
Hospital staff in Kalemie said Tuesday that one poor neighborhood of mud-and-thatch homes had suffered some of the worst damage, with metal roofs falling in on inhabitants.
Congo is emerging from a five-year war that drew in six nations and left nearly 4 million people dead, most through strife-induced disease and hunger. The war ended in 2002, and peacekeepers are trying to help a transitional government extend its authority across the country and prepare for elections scheduled next year. Congo also has been beset by volcanoes. Jacques Derieux, head of the geological survey in the eastern Congolese town of Goma, said the quake was not linked to volcanic activity. But Celestin Kasereka Mahinda, an official at the Goma volcano observatory, said the quake could affect volcano activity. Goma's Nyiragongo volcano erupted on Jan. 18, 2002, forcing some 300,000 people to flee and destroying the homes of 120,000. An estimated 100 people were killed. Across Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania, the Kigoma Regional Commissioner said authorities were waiting Tuesday for police stations in remote parts of Tanzania to investigate and report possible casualties from the quake, reports the AP. I.L.