South African Quake Kills Man as Tremors Hit Biggest Cities

South Africa’s biggest cities were rocked by an earthquake that sent tremors through the country, killing one person near a mining town west of Johannesburg.

The 5.3 magnitude earthquake centered 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the town of Orkney in the country’s North West province, according to a statement on the U.S. Geological Survey’s website. A 31 year-old male was found dead beneath some rubble after a wall fell on him, Luyanda Majija, spokeswoman for emergency services ER24, said by phone from Johannesburg.

“Everything was moving up and down like a giant wave,” James Piepers, 51, a mine manager at closely held China African Precious Metals Pty Ltd. in Orkney, who was in his office at the time, said by phone. “I just sat in my chair looking out of the window in total amazement at what is happening.”

Tremors were felt in Johannesburg and Pretoria in Gauteng province, Bloemfontein in the Free State and Durban in coastal KwaZulu-Natal shortly after 12 p.m. today. Schools in Orkney were damaged while AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., the world’s third-biggest gold miner, evacuated about 3,300 people from two of its mines in the area. The Johannesburg-based company said 21 employees were being treated for minor injuries.

Medics visited 11 sites where there had been reports of trapped miners and found none, Majija of ER24 said by phone. The quake was the biggest in Africa’s no. 2 economy since 2005, South Africa Press Association reported, citing the Council for Geosciences in South Africa. A quake of 5.3 can cause damage to poorly constructed buildings and lead to a few casualties, according to the USGS.

‘Biggest Felt’

There were two aftershocks about 20 minutes apart following the initial earthquake, said Piepers, who has worked in mines for 35 years. “We are used to these type of things but not to this extent,” he said. “This is the biggest in my life that I’ve seen and felt.”

USGS said the epicenter of the earthquake was 10 kilometers underground. AngloGold’s Mponeng mine, which wasn’t affected, is the world’s deepest shaft reaching 3.9 kilometers below ground.

The company evacuated employees at its Great Noligwa and Moab Khotsong mines, spokesman Stewart Bailey said by phone. All were above ground as of 7:44 p.m. local time. Sibanye Gold Ltd. and Village Main Reef Ltd. said their mines were unaffected.

“It would be one of the biggest tremors in South Africa,” Dr Musa Manzi, geophysicist at Wits University in Johannesburg, said by phone.

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