12 feared dead in magnitude 6.8 earthquake in Myanmar

Bridge over the Irrawaddy River and a mine collapses as tremblor hits remote region known for its minerals and gemstones suffers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 3:38am

A strong earthquake struck northern Myanmar yesterday, collapsing a bridge and a gold mine, damaging several old Buddhist pagodas and killing as many as 12 people.

No casualties or major damage were reported in the nearest major population centre, Myanmar's second-biggest city of Mandalay, which is about 117 kilometres south of the quake's epicentre near the town of Shwebo in the Sagaing region.

An official from the Meteorological Department in the capital, Naypyidaw, said the magnitude 6.8 quake struck at 7.42am local time.

The area surrounding the epicentre is underdeveloped, and casualty reports were coming in piecemeal, mostly from local media sources.

The region is a centre for mining of minerals and gemstones, and several mines were reported to have collapsed.

The biggest single death toll was reported by a local administrative officer in Sint Ku township - on the Irrawaddy River near the quake's epicentre - who said that six people had died there and another 11 were injured.

He said some of the dead were miners who were killed when a gold mine collapsed. He spoke on condition of anonymity because local officials are not usually allowed to release information to the media.

According to news reports, several people died when a bridge under construction across the Irrawaddy River collapsed east of Shwebo. The bridge was to have linked the town of Sinku with Kyaukmyaung.

The website of Weekly Eleven magazine said four people were killed and 25 injured when the bridge, which was 80 per cent built, fell.

The local government announced a toll of two dead and 16 injured. All of the victims appeared to be workers.

However, a Shwebo police officer said just one person was confirmed dead from the bridge's collapse, while five were still unaccounted for. Weekly Eleven also said two monasteries in Kyaukmyaung collapsed, killing two people.

"This is the worst earthquake that I have ever felt in my entire life," Soe Soe, a 52-year-old Shwebo resident, said by phone.

She said that the huge concrete gate of a local monastery collapsed and that several sculptures from another pagoda in the town were damaged.

Other damage was reported in Mogok, a major gem-mining area just east of the quake's epicentre. Temples were damaged there, as were some abandoned mines.

"Landslides occurred at some old ruby mines, but there were no casualties because these are old mines," Sein Win, a Mogok resident, said by phone.

Damage to centuries-old Buddhist temples is a common result of Myanmar earthquakes, but regarded by the superstitious as a bad omen.

The so-called "umbrella" atop a stupa, a mound-like structure containing relics, in Mogok had reportedly crashed down in yesterday's quake.

These uppermost parts of the brick domes usually have encased in them relics of the Buddha and small Buddha images, and sometimes jewels.

Sein Win said police were guarding the damaged stupa and its exposed relics.

A resident of Naypyidaw, which is 365 kilometres south of the quake's epicentre, said that several window panes of the parliamentary building had broken.

The epicentre is in a region frequently hit by small tremors that usually cause little damage. The quake was felt in Bangkok, capital of neighbouring Thailand.

It comes just a week ahead of a scheduled visit to Myanmar by US President Barack Obama. He will be the first US president to visit the one-time pariah nation, which is emerging from decades of military rule.