A powerful earthquake that toppled homes in northeastern Burma has killed more than 70 people, and there were fears today the toll would mount as conditions in more remote areas became known.
The Thursday night quake, measured at a magnitude 6.8 by the US Geological Survey, was centred just north of the town Tachileik in the mountains along the Thai border. It was felt hundreds of miles away in the Thai capital Bangkok and Vietnamese capital Hanoi.
Burma state radio announced today 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 UN'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.
The state-run New Light of Burma newspaper reported that 15 houses collapsed in the town of Tarlay, where state radio said 11 were killed and 29 injured. Another UN official said a small hospital there was partially damaged as well as a bridge, making it difficult to access the town.
The newspaper said another two people were killed in Tachileik, including a four-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.
In Mae Sai, one woman was killed when a wall fell on her, according to Thai police, but damage was otherwise minimal.
The second UN official said medicine would be sent to the affected areas as soon as possible along with an assessment team in cooperation with the Burma Red Cross Society.
Both UN officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Burma's government frowns on giving unauthorised information to the media.
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.
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 criticised 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 epicentre, 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 centre was being set up today in Mae Sai.
"We are worried that the area might be hit with stronger quakes. There was another quake at 7am 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."