25 Aug 2016

Myanmar earthquake kills three, damages ancient temples

8:44 am on 25 August 2016

A powerful earthquake has shaken central Myanmar, killing at least three people and damaging scores of centuries-old Buddhist pagodas around the ancient capital of Bagan.

The ancient Sulamuni temple shrouded in dust as a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit Bagan in central Myanmar.

The ancient Sulamuni temple seen shrouded in dust as a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit Bagan in central Myanmar. Photo: afp

The 6.8-magnitude quake shook buildings across country and tremors were felt as far away as Thailand, Bangladesh and eastern India.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) said the quake struck just after 5pm yesterday near the town of Chauk, on the Ayeyarwaddy River south of Bagan and about 175 km southwest of the country's second city Mandalay.

Fire department and Red Cross officials said two children were killed in the small town of Yenanchaung, south of Chauk when a pagoda collapsed on a river bank and one man was killed at a factory when a roof collapsed.

"We felt quite heavy shaking for about 10 seconds and started to evacuate the building when there was another strong tremor," said Vincent Panzani of charity Save the Children.

He spoke from Pakkoku, a small town near Bagan, the centrepiece of Myanmar's rapidly expanding tourism industry.

The Ministry of Information said nearly 100 of Bagan's famed pagodas, mostly built between the 11th and 13th centuries, had been damaged. One woman tourist was injured at a pagoda, a local official said.

Bagan has around 2000-3000 pagodas and temples, spread over a 42-sq km plain. It rivals Cambodia's Angkor Wat and Borobudur in Indonesia as one of Asia's premier archaeological sites.

BBC correspondent Jonah Fisher speaking from Myanmar said there had been building damage at the temple complex in Bagan, and some of the many tourists visiting the site had caught the earthquake on film. He said the death toll was expected to rise.

Elsewhere, damage appeared to have been relatively light, although reports were still filtering through as night fell.

The quake struck at a relatively deep 84 km (52 miles), the USGS said.

"Most of the reports of damage have been to the pagodas in the area, with dozens impacted, particularly around Bagan," said Mr Panzani. "There have also been reports of damage to smaller, more basic buildings... Several of our staff who've lived in this part of Myanmar their whole lives said it was the strongest earthquake they've ever felt."

The quake shook buildings in Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, and in other towns and cities. Office buildings in the Thai capital Bangkok, to the east of Myanmar, shook for a few seconds. The quake was also felt in Bangladesh, to the west of Myanmar, where some people ran out into the street as buildings shook, residents said.

Myanmar is in a seismically active part of the world where the Indo-Australian Plate runs up against the Eurasian Plate.

In March, 2011, at least 74 people were killed in an earthquake near its borders with Thailand and Laos.

More than half of Bagan's pagodas were seriously damaged in a July 1975 earthquake that sent the landmark Buphaya Pagoda tumbling into the Ayeyarwaddy.

- Reuters / RNZ

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