18 July 2007

East Africa: Earthquake Panic Grips Kenya and Tanzania

Nairobi — American geological experts have downplayed chances of recent tremors in Kenya and Tanzania leading to a major earthquake.

At the same time, the Kenya Government moved to calm fears that have spread especially in Nairobi that an earthquake was likely.

A report by American geologists says the earthquakes represent a seismic phenomenon known as a seismic "swarm".

This according to USGS, “is an episode of high earthquake activity in which the largest earthquake does not occur at the beginning of the episode and in which the largest earthquake is not substantially larger than other earthquakes of the episode”.

This appears to suggest that the series of quakes that have shook the region since Saturday may not necessarily culminate into a major earthquake disaster.

The magnitude of the series of quakes has been between 4.4 and 6.0 according to USGS data.

The earthquake swarm is situated close to the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano, Tanzania, an active volcano in the Rift Valley.

According to USGS volcanic eruptions are often preceded and accompanied by earthquake swarms, but most earthquake swarms are not associated with volcanic eruptions.

However, the experts say the information recorded by the centre is not sufficient to determine if the current Tanzania swarm activity might lead to a change in the eruptive behaviour of Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano.

The Kenya Government has mounted three Press conferences in six hours to discount reports that spread widely in the night that Nairobi was likely to suffer an earthquake.

Thousands of residents in parts of the city spent a good part of the night outside their houses after unconfirmed reports claimed an evacuation had been ordered ahead of an earthquake expected at dawn.

Several tremors have been felt in the region since Saturday, all whose sources were traced to earth movements along the Kenya/Tanzania border.

Most of the residents affected said they were woken up either by night guards or friends and relatives who claimed a report aired on an international network TV warned of an impending quake.

Government Spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua told the first Press conference at 7am: "There has been a rumour spreading that the American Embassy in Nairobi has issued a warning to its members of staff that there will be an impending earthquake in Nairobi soon. The Government discounts this as a rumour. The US Embassy in Nairobi has NOT issued any warning. Neither has the United States Geological Survey issued any warning of an impending major earthquake in Kenya. The Government is in touch with geological experts from across the world," Dr Mutua said.

He asked for calm emphasising that it was impossible to predict earthquakes.

A resident in Nairobi's Parklands area, Mrs Bhatt said she was called by relatives who told her that an earthquake was expected in Nairobi between 5am and 6.30am.

"I woke up and there was no electricity. I looked through the window and many many people were on the streets, some locked themselves in their cars. Many others went to the Oshwal open grounds," she told the Nation newsdesk.

Similar reports were received from Kileleshwa, Kilimani, Ngong Road and Nyayo Highrise residential areas.

Panic stricken office workers in Nairobi have evacuated at least six high rise buildings following the reports.

The Government gave out a list of precautions people should observe in case on an earthquake:

1. Do not panic.

2. Do not rush out immediately during the Earthquake – Earthquakes last only a few seconds.

3. Look for a safe corner – preferably where there is a firm steel column. Avoid the centre of a building where objects can collapse on you.

4. If there is a heavy table, hide underneath it because it will  shield you from falling objects.

5. Switch off non-crucial lights, water and any gas.

6. When the situation has stabilized, walk out of the building.

7. Do not use lifts – use stairs.

8. Stand far away from buildings.

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