YANGON // A strong earthquake of a magnitude 6.8 struck northern Myanmar yesterday, collapsing a bridge and a gold mine, damaging several old Buddhist pagodas and leaving as many as 12 people dead.
A slow release of official information left the actual extent of the damage unclear. Myanmar has a poor official disaster response system.
Myanmar's second-biggest city of Mandalay reported no casualties or major damage. As the nearest major population centre to the main quake, the city lies about 117 kilometres south of the epicentre near the town of Shwebo.
The United States Geological Society reported a 5.8-magnitude aftershock yesterday, but there were no reports of new damage or casualties.
The quake was felt in Bangkok, the capital of neighbouring Thailand. It comes just a week ahead of a scheduled visit to Myanmar by the US president, Barack Obama.
A report yesterday on state television MRTV said that 100 homes, some government buildings and a primary school were damaged in Thabeikyin, a town known for gold mining not far from the epicentre.
The area surrounding the epicentre is underdeveloped.
The region is a centre for mining of minerals and gemstones, and several mines were reported to have collapsed.
The biggest single death toll was reported by a local administrative officer in Sintku township, near the quake's epicentre, who said that six people had died there and another 11 were injured.
He said that some of the dead were miners who were killed when a gold mine collapsed.
"This is the worst earthquake I felt in my entire life," said Soe Soe, a 52-year-old Shwebo resident.
State television reported that more than a dozen pagodas and stupas in five townships were damaged. The uppermost parts of the domes usually contain encased relics of the Buddha and small Buddha images and sometimes jewels.
Damage to them is taken as an especially bad omen.
Many people in Myanmar are superstitious and it is likely that local soothsayers will point out that the quake occurred on the 11th day of the 11th month.