A strong earthquake that toppled homes in northeastern Myanmar has killed more than 70 people, and there were fears Friday the toll would mount as conditions in more remote areas became known.
The Thursday night quake, measured at a magnitude 6.8 by the U.S. Geological Survey, was centered just north of the town Tachileik in the mountains along the Thai border.
The initial quake shook the famous "Golden Triangle" region, where Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet. It was felt in the capital cities of Thailand and Myanmar and as far away as Vietnam, where people in tall buildings were evacuated.
Myanmar state radio announced Friday that 74 people had been killed and 111 injured in the quake, but was updating the total frequently. It said that 390 houses, 14 Buddhist monasteries and nine government buildings were damaged.
An official from the U.N.'s World Food Program said there were many casualties and serious damage in Mong Lin village, five miles from Tachileik. State radio said 29 were killed there and 16 injured.
People fled their homes in the town and cracks were seen in the roads.
"We were extremely frightened to enter the house since there were several strong aftershocks," a teacher said by telephone. "Some people are haunted by what they saw on TV about the recent earthquake in Japan."
The Red Cross said a hospital in Tachilek had been damaged and trained local volunteers had been mobilized to provide relief and first aid.
Collapsed houses, damaged hospital
The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported that 15 houses collapsed in the town of Tarlay, where state radio said 11 were killed and 29 injured. Another U.N. official said a small hospital there was partially damaged as well as a bridge, making it difficult to access the town.
The second U.N. official said medicine would be sent to the affected areas as soon as possible along with an assessment team in cooperation with the Myanmar Red Cross Society.
Both U.N. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Myanmar's government frowns on giving unauthorized information to the media.
The newspaper said another two people were killed in Tachileik, including a 4-year-old boy. It said six people were injured in the town, which is just across the border from Mae Sai in Thailand's Chiang Rai province.
Thursday's quake was centered 69 miles north of Chiang Rai, Thailand's northernmost province and a sparsely populated, hilly area. It forms part of the Golden Triangle, a popular tourist destination and famous for the cultivation of illicit opium.
In Chiang Rai's main town, little damage was seen. The spires of several Buddhist pagodas were bent, some tiles were smashed and a few cracks were seen on the ground close to a hotel.
In Mae Sai, one woman was killed when a wall fell on her, according to Thai police, but damage was otherwise minimal.
Aftershock fearsFearing more aftershocks, people in the province's Mae Sai district had left their houses and were seen setting up makeshift shelters in open spaces.
Somchai Hatyatanti, Chiang Rai provincial governor, said cracks were seen in some buildings. Power was briefly knocked out and some telephone lines were down.
Most of rural Myanmar, 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.
The government tightly controls information, and in 2008 delayed reporting on — and asking for help with — 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.
Somchai Hatayatanti, the governor of Chiang Rai province, said dozens of people suffered minor injuries on the Thai side of the border. Cracks were found in buildings in downtown Chiang Rai city, about 55 miles from the epicenter, including a provincial hospital and city hall. The tops of the spires fell off from at least two Buddhist temples.
As a precaution for aftershocks, a relief center was being set up Friday in Mae Sai.
"We are worried that the area might be hit with stronger quakes. There was another quake at 7 a.m. this morning," said Somsri Meethong of the Mae Sai District office, referring to a 4.9 aftershock. "I had to run again like last night. What we have seen on TV about Japan added to our fear."