Myanmar seals off ancient temples damaged by quake

At least 187 temples in Bagan were damaged by the quake on Wednesday.
At least 187 temples in Bagan were damaged by the quake on Wednesday.PHOTO: REUTERS

BAGAN (Myanmar) • Truckloads of soldiers and police sealed off some of the centuries-old Buddhist pagodas around Myanmar's ancient capital of Bagan, a day after at least 187 of the brick temples were damaged in a powerful earthquake.

President Htin Kyaw flew to Bagan yesterday to meet residents, as the authorities scrambled to assess the extent of the damage from the 6.8-magnitude quake that shook buildings across the South-east Asian country and beyond on Wednesday.

"The earth shook for about five minutes," said Mr Soe Lwin, who was inside the Sulamani temple, or "Crowning Jewel", one of Bagan's most visited sites, with about 15 other tourists when the quake struck.

"One Spanish girl got lightly injured, so we helped her. After that, we ran outside of the pagoda and saw some parts falling down," he said. He cut short his trip for fear of aftershocks hitting the area.

Although tremors from the quake were felt as far away as Thailand, Bangladesh and eastern India, initial assessments showed that the wider damage was limited.

"The overall humanitarian impact has been relatively low despite the earthquake's magnitude," Mr Pierre Peron, spokesman for the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), said in a statement.

UNOCHA and the Red Cross confirmed that three people had been killed - two children and one resident from two towns close to the epicentre.

The quake struck near the town of Chauk, on the Ayeyarwaddy River south of Bagan and about 175km south-west of the country's second-largest city Mandalay, the US Geological Survey said.

"We continue to provide assistance to injured people, but we don't see this as a major disaster," said Ms Amanda George of the International Red Cross in Myanmar.

The government's Relief and Resettlement Department was leading the response, and has found four schools damaged in north-west Myanmar, UNOCHA and the local authorities said, and a hospital damaged in Pakkoku.

Bagan is the centrepiece of Myanmar's fast-growing tourism industry, and has around 2,000 to 3,000 pagodas and temples.

They are spread over a 42 sq km plain ringed by mist-covered mountains. It rivals Cambodia's Angkor Wat and Borobudur in Indonesia as South-east Asia's premier archaeological site.

As police cordoned off temples and soldiers moved in to start clearing up, tourists took snaps of the damaged buildings.

But hotel and tour operators said the impact on the industry was likely to be small. They have not been contacted by tourists with cancellations, they said, and would remain operating as normal.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2016, with the headline 'Myanmar seals off ancient temples damaged by quake'. Subscribe