Myanmar President Htin Kyaw (C) inspects the earthquake-hit Gu Byaukgyi Pagoda in Bagan, Myanmar, Aug. 25, 2016.
Myanmar President Htin Kyaw (C) inspects the earthquake-hit Gu Byaukgyi Pagoda in Bagan, Myanmar, Aug. 25, 2016.

Myanmar's president, Htin Kyaw, Thursday flew to the ancient capital of Bagan - a popular tourist destination - to assess damage caused by the powerful earthquake which shook the north-central part of the country and killed at least three people, two of them young girls.

The president said that UNESCO, Japan and China have offered to help restore the historic site, but that the process would be long and difficult. Bagan is home to thousands of ancient Buddhist pagodas, dozens of which sustained damage in Wednesday's 6.8 magnitude quake.

"We will take experts' opinions and then try to see what is the best way to restore it," Kyaw told reporters after visiting the site. "But it will be a very lengthy process and quite expensive."

The president added that monsoon rains were expected to last until October, risking further damage to the pagodas and delaying repairs. He said some sites would be covered, and urged local government officials to be judicious in restricting tourist access to damaged sites.

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‘Badly destroyed’

Lawmaker U Win Myint Khine, who represents the Chauk region - the epicenter of the earthquake - told VOA the tremors damaged at least 140 ancient temple structures in Bagan, a tentative world heritage site.

"It’s badly destroyed," Khine told VOA. "The 6.8 Richter scale magnitude is significantly strong, which is similar to the 1975 quake in Bagan. Some temples or pagoda tops enshrined with jewels also fell to the ground and we were able to keep them."

Culture ministry archaeologist U Aung Kyaw told VOA that security personnel have been dispatched to protect the sites from looters, and that emergency meetings were called to assess the damage.

“We are having emergency meeting to.. take necessary actions accordingly," he said. "All concerned departments are cooperating in this meeting."

Myanmar Earthquake: Myanmar Military personnel exa
Using brooms and bare hands, soldiers and residents clean up earthquake-damaged Htilominlo Pagoda in Bagan, Myanmar, Aug. 25, 2016.

Bagan is home to more than 2,000 ancient Buddhist structures, including temples and pagodas dating back to 10th through the 14th centuries.

During the quake tremors were felt in the Thai capital, Bangkok, and Kolkata in India - each around 1,000 kilometers away.

Although earthquakes are fairly common in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, the southeast Asian country has not had a deadly one since a 6.8-magnitude quake in November 2012 killed nearly 40 people.

A 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit Myanmar this past April, but caused only minor damage and no casualties.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Burmese Service.