Quake kills 50 in Myanmar, aftershock rattles Thai north

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 25, 2011 1:53 AM

By Chaiwat Subprason

CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) - At least 50 people were killed in the strong earthquake that struck Myanmar, officials said, while another quake hit northern Thailand Friday, inflicting limited damage.

Thursday's 6.8 magnitude earthquake caused panic in several Southeast Asian countries, but the worst hit was Myanmar, where the death toll was expected to rise slightly following tremors that destroyed more than 100 buildings.

Officials in northern Thailand were assessing whether Friday's quake, of an estimated magnitude of 5.5, had caused any additional damage.

The initial quake was felt in the capital cities of Thailand and Myanmar and as far away as Vietnam, where people in tall buildings were evacuated. It was 6.2 miles below the surface but caused only slight damage on the Thai side.

The town of Tachilek in Myanmar was badly hit by Thursday's quake. People fled their homes, parked motorcycles tumbled to the ground and cracks were seen in the roads.

FEARS OF AFTERSHOCKS

"We were extremely frightened to enter the house since there were several strong aftershocks," a local teacher said by telephone.

"Some people are haunted by what they saw on TV about the recent earthquake in Japan."

Several earthquakes of magnitudes 5 to as high as 7 have hit northern Myanmar and Thailand in the past 15 years, but damage and casualties have been limited.

Thursday's quake was centred 111 km (69 miles) north of Chiang Rai in a sparsely populated, hilly area. It forms part of the "Golden Triangle," a place where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet and which is infamous for the cultivation of illicit opium.

In Chiang Rai, Thailand's northernmost province which borders Myanmar, little damage was seen. The spires of several Buddhist pagodas were bent, some tiles were smashed and a few cracks were seen on the ground close to a hotel.

"There was also slight damage at some government offices and houses but nothing that led to total collapse or that immediately compromised building structures," Somchai Hatyatanti, the provincial governor, told Reuters.

Police confirmed one woman was killed Thursday when a wall of her house collapsed in the province's Mae Sai district.

A hospital in Mae Sai, the biggest Thai town close to the epicentre, said it had not received any patients after Thursday's earthquake. Power was briefly knocked out and some telephone lines were down.

Vibul Sguanpong, Director General of Thailand's Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, said there had been dozens of aftershocks.

"We urge those in very old houses or tall, old buildings near the northern border with Myanmar to check for cracks and other signs of damage, and consider leaving for the next two days while aftershocks are likely," he said.

(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun in Yangon, Arada Kultawanich and Ambika Ahuja in Bangkok; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Miral Fahmy)