CYANGUGU - At least 34 people were confirmed dead and hundreds injured yesterday after a powerful earthquake shook the former Cyangugu province in the districts of Nyamasheke and Rusizi, now Western Province. However, other reports said 38 people had been killed. The quake which struck in the morning hours (around 9:30 am) left over 434 injured people admitted in different hospitals in the country.
Eighteen people who were critically injured were airlifted to different Kigali hospitals, while others are admitted at Gihundwe and Bushenge hospitals in the two affected districts.
“Emergency teams swung in immediately and thanks to the Rwanda Defense Force (RDF) which readily availed helicopters that airlifted the critically injured to Kigali,” the Minister of Local Government Protais Musoni said by phone last evening.
Musoni said that a team from the disaster preparedness unit is already on the ground to asses the damage.
“We shall base on this assessment to get further help for the victims,” Musoni said
The quakes, felt across several countries of the Great Lakes region, had a magnitude of 5.0 in Rwanda. It was strong at a magnitude of 6.0 in eastern DR Congo’s Bukavu, where as many as 200 people were reportedly killed by last evening.
In Western Province, at least 32 houses were destroyed in the two districts of Nyamasheke and Rusizi.
There was panic in Kigali as well, where city residents- especially workers in high rise buildings- kept running out of the offices amid the tremors. It was reported that the quake was felt in Burundi, interrupting hydro-power production.
The minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of Information, Prof Laurent Nkusi who was one of the Cabinet ministers visited the affected region, said that emergency assistance and equipment like plastic sheeting have been supplied.
“Doctors were immediately airlifted to the two hospitals (Gihundwe and Bushenge) to assist those on ground,” Nkusi said.
The injured who were flown by helicopters to Kigali are admitted at King Faysal Hospital, Kanombe Military Hospital and the University Central Hospital of Kigali (CHUK).
Asterie Nyiranzoga, whose daughter Florence Niyokwizerwa is admitted at King Faysal Hospital, tearfully narrated: “I was outside the house doing normal chores when I saw our house going down…within a few seconds and it was too hard for me to rescue her.”
She said that life would be difficult for her and her spouse with whom she has eight children, after their house was destroyed.
“We do not have shelter and I’m praying that my child gets better,” Nyiranzoga who resides on Nkombo islands of Nyamasheke district said.
An unidentified old man in Nyamasheke district was also stung to his death by bees after he failed to run away. The swarm of bees had been awoken by the tremor.
Meanwhile, the State Minister in charge of Water and Mines, Prof. Bikoro Munyanganizi said that more tremors were expected to strike but added that they would be less powerful.
He told Radio Rwanda last evening that people especially those whose houses developed cracks should try to keep out of the houses for the next few days.
“We don’t know when they (tremors) are expected to strike again,” Bikoro said.
Those who died were mostly children and the elderly.
Most buildings in the two districts were also destroyed. In some schools, students were instructed to keep outside classrooms while most people have deserted their homes.
Medics at Guhundwe hospital, Rusizi district also said that they registered 55 cases trauma among residents.
One of the most hit areas was the Church of Nkanka Diocese where ten members of the congregation died instantly after the church’s porch collapsed.
According to Fr Gaspard Ntakirutimana, the priest at the church who was preaching at the time the quakes struck, 40 people were also injured as they tried to fight their way out.
Ntakirutimana said: “We were in the middle of the mass when the tremor hit the church.”
In Nyamasheke, a mosque collapsed and injured mostly women and children who were undertaking Koran lessons.
In December 2005, a powerful 6.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the region but there were very few deaths reported.