The death toll following a strong earthquake that hit northeastern Burma may have exceeded 100, with terrified residents fleeing their homes on Friday amid warnings of possible aftershocks.
An official statement from the ruling military junta said the toll from Thursday's quake reached 74 with 111 injured as of mid-Friday, but other monitoring groups said up to 130 people may have been killed.
A total of 390 houses, 14 monasteries, and nine government department buildings were destroyed in worst-hit villages such as Tarlay and and Mong Lin in Shan state, the government said.
But the Thai-based Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN) said, based on its feedback, the casualty toll had climbed to 130 dead and 230 injured.
"More than 80 coffins were sold this morning in [the main township of] Tachileik, following Thursday's 6.8 magnitude quake, which had tremors being felt as far away as the Thai and Vietnamese capitals of Bangkok and Hanoi and parts of China," the agency quoted sources as saying.
It said more than 100 buildings, including the Tarlay hospital, had crumbled. “Half of a two-floored house was seen buried,” one source quoted an eyewitness as saying.
Many cracks were seen on a key bridge in Tarlay, eyewitnesses said.
Most of the people in Tachileik spent the night sleeping outdoors following warnings of aftershocks. Government officials, using loudspeakers, warned the people to brace for aftershocks.
"It looks like a public holiday with all shops closed," said U Maung, a Tachileik resident. "People dare not go back to their homes. We have felt huge aftershocks about four or five times and uncountable small ones."
The earthquake's epicenter was located in eastern Burma near the border with Thailand and Laos. Credit: RFA
Across the border, Thai authorities said a 52-year-old woman was killed in Mae Sai district after a wall in her house collapsed. Sixteen people, including seven Burmese and five Chinese nationals, were hurt in the quake, AFP reported.
In the former capital Rangoon, Chris Herink, Burma's country director for the charity World Vision, said there were reports that the number of people killed had increased.
"The latest unconfirmed number is 140, so it is a worrying trend, definitely," he said.
A Burmese official told AFP earlier that "the military, police, and local authorities are trying to find some people injured in those affected areas, but the roads are still closed."
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said the "risk of landslides remains high" in affected areas and added that it had received reports of "sporadic disruption of basic facilities, including electricity, water supply, telecommunications."
A U.N. official said damage to a bridge in Tarlay made it difficult to access the town, AP reported.
The private relief agency World Vision said water tanks and wells were also damaged, making water scarce.
No tsunami threat
The Burmese quake came two weeks after Japan was hit by a monster earthquake and tsunami that left around 27,000 people dead or missing and triggered a crisis at its Fukushima nuclear plant.
Burma and Japan sit on different tectonic plates, separated by the vast Eurasian plate.
No tsunami warning was issued after the Burmese quake, as U.S. seismologists said it is too far inland to have generated a devastating wave in the Indian Ocean.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) initially recorded the quake as magnitude 7.0, but later revised it down to 6.8.
Most of rural Burma, one of Asia's poorest countries, is underdeveloped, with poor communications and other infrastructure and minimal rescue and relief capacity. The country's military government is also usually reluctant to release information about disasters because it is already sensitive to any criticism.
In 2008, the government delayed reporting on—and asking for help with—the devastating Cyclone Nargis, which killed 130,000 people. The junta was widely criticized for what were called inadequate preparations and a slow response to the disaster.Reported by RFA's Burmese service. Translated by May Zaw Khin. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.