BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) -- A strong earthquake destroyed several buildings in Malawi on Sunday, killing at least three people and injuring about 200, a government official said.
The quake struck the southeast African country at 1:19 a.m., and the victims included students who were sleeping in a dormitory at a government school, said Gasten Macheka, the commissioner of Karonga district.
Macheka said about 270,000 people have been urged to leave their homes for their safety, and that the hard-hit district in northern Malawi urgently needs at least 48,000 tents and medical supplies.
"This is a crisis," he said. "We are asking everyone in Karonga not to be in houses or near houses because the situation is unstable. We are appealing to the government and the international community to help us as a matter of urgency."
Macheka said at least three people were killed and 200 injured. Many of the victims were treated for injuries such as broken bones and skin lacerations at Karonga District Hospital, but dozens of others were hospitalized there or evacuated to a hospital in Mzuzu city, about 140 miles (230 kilometers) from the epicenter, he said.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a magnitude of 6.0, making it strong enough to cause severe damage.
Officials from Malawi's Department of Relief and Disaster Management Affairs were flying to the area to survey the damage, and the Malawi Red Cross was taking tents from the capital, Lilongwe, to the displaced in Karonga district.
The district has been hit by a series of earthquakes and aftershocks since the beginning of December.
Leonard Kalindekafe, the director of Malawi's Department of Geological Surveys, said Sunday's quake was worse than any other. However, earlier this month an earthquake nearly as strong - a 5.9-magnitude - demolished several houses in Karonga district, killing a child and injuring six people.
Kalindekafe said the area had been expecting aftershocks, "but we are surprised at the massive one" that hit Sunday. "It's now really chaotic. We can't tell what's going to happen," he said.
The district lies on the Great Rift Valley fault line, which may now be realigning itself, making it more unstable than it has been for a long time, said Kalindekafe.
"This is being caused by what we call the rejuvenation of the fault lines, or new faults are being formed," he said.