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November 11, 2012

Quake Kills At Least 12 in Burma

by Michael Lipin

Burmese officials and aid workers say a strong earthquake has killed about a dozen people and injured many others in central Burma. 

The 6.8 magnitude tremor struck early Sunday about 110 kilometers north of the Burmese city of Mandalay.  Aftershocks shook the region into early Monday.  

The biggest death toll from the shallow quake appeared to be at a bridge under construction that collapsed on the Irrawaddy River near the town of Shwebo.  Witnesses said four workers were killed and several others are missing. 

Witnesses also said a monastery collapsed in the village of Kyaukmyaung on the west side of the bridge, killing several people, while a gold mine was damaged in the village of Sintku, killing several more.  

A Sintku resident described the mood of the village to VOA, saying, "Because of warnings from meteorologists, people here are afraid of more aftershocks.  So they do not dare to stay in buildings and they go outside."

London-based humanitarian group Save the Children said the quake damaged several schools, there were no classes at the time and no students or teachers were hurt. 

Speaking to VOA by phone from Rangoon, the group's Burma operations director, Denis De Poerk, said casualties appeared low because the quake struck a relatively undeveloped region.  He expressed confidence Burmese authorities will not need foreign assistance to deal with the quake. 

"In the last couple of years, the Burmese government has shown that it is able to move very quickly to respond to natural disasters and mobilize resources. In this country, there also is a very strong (sense of) community. Businessmen mobilize very fast to send emergency supplies to the people affected," he said. 

No major damage was reported in Mandalay, Burma's second largest city.  But the quake rattled the nerves of residents such as journalist Min Htet Nyein Chan. 

"We have experience of earthquakes, but this one is the strongest.  People panicked and walls [of houses] collapsed.  A landslide created a two-foot deep hole in the ground and buried a house in Than Hlet Hmaw, near Mandalay, and many pagodas collapsed," he said. 

The quake also was felt in neighboring Thailand and its capital, Bangkok.