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South Africa quake kills 1 as tremors hit biggest cities

The deceased man’s belongings, left at a disused mining building after he died when a wall fell on him in Orkney, 170 kilometers (105 miles) southwest of Johannesburg, South Africa,  Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014.  One man died when a wall of a disused mining building fell on him, said Werner Vermaak, a spokesman for emergency responders working in the Orkney area, a center of gold-mining operations. The earthquake shook buildings in Johannesburg and surrounding areas in South Africa's most populous province on Tuesday.  (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

The deceased man’s belongings, left at a disused mining building after he died when a wall fell on him in Orkney, 170 kilometers (105 miles) southwest of Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. One man died when a wall of a disused mining building fell on him, said Werner Vermaak, a spokesman for emergency responders working in the Orkney area, a center of gold-mining operations. The earthquake shook buildings in Johannesburg and surrounding areas in South Africa's most populous province on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

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 was centered 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 man 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 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 noon yesterday. Schools in Orkney were damaged while AngloGold Ashanti, 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 said. 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 magnitude of 5.3 can cause damage to poorly constructed buildings and lead to a few casualties, according to the USGS.

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 6.2 miles underground. AngloGold’s Mponeng mine, which wasn’t affected, is the world’s deepest shaft reaching 2.4 miles below ground.

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

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

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