YANGON (AFP) – At least 75 people were killed and hundreds left homeless on Friday after a strong earthquake hit Myanmar, as aid workers said it could be days before the extent of the damage becomes clear.
Tremors were felt as far away as Bangkok, almost 800 kilometres (500 miles) from the epicentre, Hanoi and parts of China when the magnitude 6.8 quake hit late on Thursday.
Buildings were flattened close to the epicentre while terrified residents across the region fled their homes as aftershocks continued into Friday.
Myanmar state television confirmed a toll of 74 dead and 111 injured.
Nearly 400 homes collapsed in four villages and towns close to the epicentre, the broadcaster said, with nine government offices also destroyed in badly-hit Tarlay town. Several monasteries were also smashed.
“We are trying to reach the remote areas,” a Myanmar official told AFP.
“The military, police and local authorities are trying to find some people injured in those affected areas but the roads are still closed.”
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 Myanmar and five Chinese nationals, were hurt in the quake.
In Yangon Chris Herink, Myanmar country director for the charity World Vision, said teams in the area had found that the “two most affected townships are Tarlay and Mong Lin”.
He said the Myanmar government appeared to be attempting to keep its population informed, with updates on the damage and death toll.
“The number keeps increasing,” he said of the list of people killed.
World Vision helps care for around 7,000 children sponsored by overseas donors in the affected areas.
“We want to ensure that they and their families are safe, secure and accounted for and to offer assistance to them as a first priority but also to help anyone in the area that has humanitarian needs,” he said.
Ben Phillips, of Save the Children in Bangkok, said the organisation was on the ground in affected areas on the Thai side of the border and was also trying to assess the situation in Myanmar.
“This is harder as the area affected is more remote. Whilst remoteness may limit the earthquake’s impact it also makes it harder to get all the information on impact quickly. It may take days,” he said.
The quake struck 90 kilometres (60 miles) north of Chiang Rai and 235 kilometres (150 miles) north-northeast of Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second city and a popular tourist destination.
Residents in Chiang Rai city raced from their homes again on Friday morning as a large tremor shook the ground.
Four pagodas in the historic town of Chiang Saen near the northern Thai border were damaged, including Chedi Luang, where its three-metre (10-foot) long pinnacle crashed to the ground.
Over 6,000 people were left “stricken” after the earthquake in China’s rugged Xishuangbanna border region, but no fatalities were known as of late Thursday night, according to the country’s Civil Affairs Ministry
Some residents of the Vietnamese capital Hanoi fled their homes when the quake shook the city.
Le Huy Minh, assistant director of the national Global Geophysics Institute in the capital, reported no victims or damage.
“There was big panic among the local residents,” as high buildings shook for half a minute, said Nguyen Thai Son, of the institute’s office in northwestern Dien Bien town, 350 kilometres from the epicentre.
But he added there were “neither victims nor material losses here”.
Laos government spokesman Khenthong Nuanthasing said there had been no reports of casualties in his country from the earthquake.
“In Vientiane it was not strong,” he said.
The quake comes 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.
Myanmar and Japan sit on different tectonic plates, separated by the vast Eurasian plate.
No tsunami warning was issued after the Myanmar quake as US seismologists said it was too far inland to generate a devastating wave in the Indian Ocean.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) initially recorded the quake as magnitude 7.0, but later revised it down to 6.8.