Central Myanmar hit by 6.8-magnitude quake, at least 3 killed

Two men look at a collapsed entrance of a pagoda after an earthquake in Bagan, Myanmar, Aug 24, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS
Collapsed walls surround an ancient pagoda after a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit Bagan on Aug 24, 2016. PHOTO: AFP
A 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Myanmar, 143km west of the city of Meiktila, on Aug 24, 2016. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM USGS

YANGON (AFP) - A powerful 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck central Myanmar Wednesday (Aug 24), killing at least three people and damaging some 60 pagodas in the famous ancient city of Bagan, officials said.

The quake, which the US Geological Survey said hit at a depth of 84km, was also felt across neighbouring Thailand, India and Bangladesh, sending panicked residents rushing onto the streets.

Two girls, aged seven and 15, were killed in Magway region where the quake struck, according to Myanmar's Ministry of Information.

A collapsed building in a nearby town also killed a 22-year-old man and injured one woman, local police told AFP.

Heavy damage was reported in Bagan - Myanmar's most famous archaeological site and a major tourist destination some 30km north of the quake's epicentre.

"About 60 pagodas in Bagan were damaged. Some were seriously damaged," said Aung Kyaw, the director of Bagan's culture department.

Photos showed clouds of dust billowing around some of the site's massive temples, with bricks crumbling down their tiered facades.

A tourist police officer from Bagan said a Spanish holidaymaker was slightly hurt when the quake knocked her from the temple where she was watching the sunset.

Scaling Bagan's ancient structures to watch the sun set over the city's 2,500 monuments is a daily ritual among tourists and local pilgrims.

The temples, built between the 10th and 14th centuries, are revered in the Buddhist-majority country and a top draw for its growing tourism industry.

Myanmar, which has opened its doors to a rising tide of visitors since emerging from junta rule in 2011, is eager to see the ancient capital designated as a Unesco world heritage site.

Soe Win, a local politician from Chauk - the riverside town closest to the epicentre - said the tremors were the worst he had experienced in years.

"More than eight pagodas in town collapsed," the 50-year-old told AFP, referring to Chauk. "Two buildings collapsed as well, while some others were cracked. People in town are still scared."

Damage was also reported in the capital Naypyidaw some 200km away, with MP Thiri Yadanar posting photos on Facebook of cracked glass windows inside a parliament building.

The earthquake caused high-rise buildings in Myanmar's largest city Yangon to sway, as well as those in the Thai capital Bangkok and the Indian city of Kolkata.

"Services of the underground railway have been suspended fearing aftershocks of the quake," Kolkata Metro Railway spokesman Indrani Banerjee told AFP.

The quake was also felt throughout south and southwestern Bangladesh close to the border with Myanmar, with residents running outside.

At least 20 people were injured as workers tried to flee a building in the Savar industrial district outside Dhaka, ATN Bangla television reported.

"All of us ran to the streets leaving the houses and shops unsecured as the quake seemed very dangerous," Nazmus Sakib, from the southern city of Chittagong near the Myanmar border, wrote on his Facebook wall.

Earthquakes are relatively common in Myanmar, although the country has not suffered a major one since 2012.

That powerful tremor - also of 6.8 magnitude - struck the centre of the country, killing 26 people and injuring hundreds.

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