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SHWEBO, Myanmar: A powerful earthquake that struck Myanmar yesterday killed at least 13 people, injured 40 and sparked panic in the central city of Mandalay, residents and aid workers said.
The shallow 6.8-magnitude quake struck in a rural area 116km north of Mandalay and was followed by strong aftershocks, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said.
Four labourers flung into the Irrawaddy river from a partly-built bridge near the town of Shwebo, north of Mandalay and nearer to the epicentre of the quake, were among those believed to have died, according to a situation report from Save the Children.
The collapse of a monastery in the nearby village of Kyauk Myaung killed two people and one died in Mandalay, it said. A further six were killed in Sint Ku township, including two people who died when a gold mine collapsed.
“People everywhere are very worried that another earthquake might strike,” the aid organisation said
Residents of Mandalay fled shaking buildings in terror, although no major damage was reported there.
“I ran from my bed carrying my daughter out to the street. There were many people in the road. Some were shouting and others felt dizzy,” Mandalay resident San Yu Kyaw said by telephone.
A government official in the capital Naypyidaw who asked not to be named could only confirm two deaths so far.
Another official from Myanmar’s Relief and Resettlement Department said that most of those injured were workers on construction sites, with 15 people taken to Shwebo and Kyauk Myaung hospitals.
“We have sent a team to Shwebo where the earthquake was centred to assist in relief works and providing food to the victims,” he said on condition of anonymity.
Save the Children, which has an office in Mandalay, said reports indicated that 25 were injured in the bridge collapse on the Irrawaddy, with 10 taken to hospital.
It said 20 people were thought to have been taken to hospital in Shwebo and a further 10 were being treated in Mandalay.
Construction standards are generally poor in the country formerly known as Burma, one of Asia’s most impoverished nations.
A large crack stretching from the second to the sixth floor of Mandalay’s highest building, the 25-storey Mann Myanmar Plaza, appeared after the quake, a local resident said.
He said people were afraid to enter the structure and it remains closed.
The USGS issued a yellow alert, saying “some casualties and damage are possible” but the impact should be relatively localised.
The quake, which was initially thought to be magnitude 7.0, hit at 7.42 am (0112 GMT) at a depth of just 10 kilometres.
It was followed by two shallow 5.0-magnitude aftershocks within 20 minutes, according to the USGS.
“The quake was quite strong. I was shopping in the market at the time and I saw women crying in fear when they felt it. We expect more quakes are coming. Everybody is afraid,” said 23-year-old Win Win Nwe, a resident in Shwebo. It comes little more than a week before US President Barack Obama is due in Myanmar on a historic visit, as the West begins to roll back sanctions to reward dramatic political reforms under President Thein Sein.
The quake was felt in neighbouring Thailand including in Bangkok.
Earthquakes are relatively common in Myanmar.
The USGS said six strong earthquakes, of 7.0-magnitude and more, struck between 1930 and 1956 near the Sagaing Fault, which runs north to south through the centre of the country.
Kyaw Kyaw Lwin, an official at the National Earthquake Information Division in Naypyidaw, said it was the strongest quake in the area since a 6.0-magnitude quake in 1991.
More than 70 people were killed in March 2011 when a powerful 6.8-magnitude quake struck Myanmar near the borders with Thailand and Laos, reducing homes and government buildings to rubble and affecting thousands of people.
Aid workers praised Myanmar’s regime for its speedy response to that quake, in contrast to the handling of natural disasters by the previous junta which had ruled the country for decades.