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Earthquake Hits Southern Sudan, But no Injuries or Damage

May 20, 1990

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) _ A major earthquake rumbled through the jungles of southern Sudan on Sunday near the war-torn region’s largest city, but officials said there appeared to be no casualties and little damage.

The quake measured 7.5 on the Richter scale. A temblor of that size is capable of causing widespread destruction.

The official Sudan News Agency said the earthquake caused no deaths or injuries. But much of the area affected by the quake is so isolated that any news might take days or weeks.

Juba, southern Sudan’s largest city, is 60 miles southwest of the quake’s reported epicenter. The region has been hit by famine as well as fighting between the government and the rebel People’s Liberation Army, and Juba is crammed with refugees from the 7-year-old civil war.

In Nairobi, Kenya, Bob Koepp, a Lutheran World Federation official, said a pilot flying relief supplies to Juba returned late Sunday and said the city had not been seriously affected. He said there was some ″negligible″ damage.

″It wasn’t very heavy at Juba. The epicenter apparently was in the swamps and the ground may have just soaked it up,″ Koepp said.

Scientists said the quake’s epicenter was 700 miles south of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. It occurred in sparsely populated territory controlled by the rebels, who hold most of the southern countryside.

Relief workers in two rebel-controlled villages, Bor and Torit, apparently told officials in Nairobi, Kenya, the earthquake caused no damage there.

″It’s pretty low area over there, with low buildings and quite remote,″ Koepp said.

A crew with Koepp’s organization landed in the region with relief supplies two hours after the quake struck at 4:22 a.m. and reported seeing nothing amiss.

Late Sunday, a Khartoum airport tower operator said flights to the southern city had not been disrupted.

Pierre-Andre Conod of the International Committee of the Red Cross said he had no details about injuries or damage. He said colleagues in Juba had not made their regular radio contact with Khartoum but cautioned that ″maybe they have a problem with the antenna. We cannot say it is due to the earthquake.″

People seeking haven from the war and from famine have more than doubled Juba’s population of 125,000. In recent years, hundreds of thousands have died in southern Sudan, an area the size of Texas.

Egypt’s two principal earthquake monitoring stations, including one at the Aswan High Dam, 600 miles south of Cairo and just north of the Sudan border, recorded the quake at 7.5 on the Richter scale. The U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif. reported an identical reading.

″It’s such a big quake that the monitoring stations are saturated with data,″ said geologist Rashad M. Kebeasy, president of Egypt’s National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics. ″This is an extremely dangerous earthquake. It is the first time that such a quake has struck this area.″

He said ″large and very dangerous aftershocks″ were to be expected for the next two days.

The Richter scale is a gauge of energy released by an earthquake as measured by the ground motion recorded on a seismograph. Every increase of one number, say from magnitude 5.5 to magnitude 6.6, means that the ground motion is 10 times greater.

A magnitude of 7 is considered a major earthquake capable of widespread heavy damage. Magnitude 8 is a great earthquake capable of tremendous damage. Last October’s earthquake near San Francisco registered 7.1 on the Richter scale.

Kebeasy, an expert on earthquakes of northeastern Africa, said the epicenter was just west of the Great African Rift. That earthquake zone stretches 4,000 miles from Mozambique through the Red Sea to Lebanon.

The proximity to the rift accounts for the quake’s magnitude, Kebeasy said.

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