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Quake Shakes Himalayas Causing Deaths, Destruction in Bhutan

A powerful earthquake has struck the Himalayan region, causing at least five deaths and destruction in the small mountainous nation of Bhutan. The tremor - measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale - shook a wide area.

The earthquake was felt as far away as Dhaka in Bangladesh and Lhasa in Tibet. Buildings cracked in Guwahati, the capital of the northeast Indian state of Assam. The epicenter of the quake was in the eastern part of the remote nation of Bhutan, between India and China.

Bhutan Home Minister Minjur Dorji, speaking from the capital, Thimpu, told VOA News there are fatalities and buildings collapsed in the Monggar region.

"We are anticipating that most of the houses are now down, destroyed," Dorji said. "These are not like you see in the metropolitan cities, like concrete houses. These are made of wood, mud and stone, generally two-storied houses."

Monasteries and forts, which are used as government administration centers, have also been damaged.

The Home Minister also says some roads have cracked or been blocked, meaning it could be some time before officials are able to reach some of the remote communities. But the Home Minister says mobile telephone service is working, enabling communications with local officials who are rendering aid.

Dorji adds Bhutan's government is still gathering information about the extent of the casualties and damage and it is premature to say whether the country will request outside assistance.

In the Indian state of Assam, the earthquake caused cracks in some buildings in the capital, Guwahati, sending panicked occupants into the streets.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the epicenter of the quake was near the border of Bhutan and India, about 125 kilometers from Guwahati and at a shallow depth of 7.2 kilometers.

The region is considered to be seismically active and last suffered a devastating 8.5 magnitude quake in 1950, blamed on a collision of the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates. That temblor killed more than 1,500 people in Assam.