Burmese villages reeling from quake

AFTERMATH::Communication difficulties have made it difficult for authorities to assess damage and reach remote areas, many of which still have yet to see any rescue teams

AFP, SINT KU, Myanmar

Tue, Nov 13, 2012 - Page 6

Burmese rescuers struggled yesterday to bring help to outlying villages in Mynamar hit by an earthquake that aid agencies say has killed at least 13, and caused a bridge and a mine to collapse.

A series of powerful aftershocks rattled nerves after Sunday’s magnitude 6.8 quake, which sent terrified people running from their homes in Myanmar’s second-biggest city of Mandalay and surrounding villages.

Burmese authorities said they were providing help to victims, including those without shelter, after more than 100 homes were damaged, but that communication problems made it difficult to assess the scale of the damage and reach more remote areas.

Villagers in settlements north of Mandalay yesterday told reporters they had yet to see rescue teams following the quake, which left dozens injured and damaged monasteries and public buildings.

“I have never felt such a big earthquake in my life. Everybody is terrified,” said Win Tint, the head of Khu Lel Village near Sint Ku Township.

Locals had tried to salvage Buddha statues from a damaged monastery, but fled in panic when the aftershocks began, he said.

About 40 buildings in the village were damaged by the tremors and while there have been no serious injuries in the village, residents have been forced into temporary shelters set up in the fields.

“The situation is quite bad. No rescue team has arrived here so far,” Win Tint said.

Following the initial jolt, which was felt as far away as Bangkok, Thailand, the US Geological Survey (USGS) recorded two further strong quakes of magnitude 5.8 and 5.6 respectively.

A UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report on Sunday said Burmese government departments had indicated “significant damage to houses, infrastructure and public buildings, including primary and secondary schools, monasteries and pagodas in various locations.”

At least 100 homes were said to be damaged in two townships, it said, adding that the Burmese Relief and Resettlement Department had responded by providing tents.

OCHA said government reports suggested seven people had been killed, four were missing and dozens injured.

UN Resident and Humanitarian coordinator Ashok Nigam said stocks of relief aid were stretched, given the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State in western Myanmar, where communal unrest has forced more than 110,000 people to flee their homes.

“Depending upon what response is required, we will have to assess at that point ... but yes, we do have a very intense emergency going on in Rakhine and the stocks are low,” he told reporters.

A situation report from Save the Children on Sunday put the number killed at 13, including four laborers who plunged into the Irrawaddy River near Sint Ku when the steel structure of a large, partially built bridge collapsed.

Six more people were killed in Sint Ku, including two who died when a gold mine caved in. Damage to a monastery in the nearby village of Kyauk Myaung left two people dead and a further fatality was reported in Mandalay, it said.

Residents in Mandalay fled shaking homes and hotels in panic, but no major damage was reported in the city. Construction standards are generally poor in the country, which is one of Asia’s most impoverished.

The quake comes little more than a week before US President Barack Obama is due in Myanmar on a historic visit as the West rolls back sanctions to reward dramatic reforms under Burmese President Thein Sein.

More than 70 people were killed in March last year when a powerful magnitude 6.8 quake struck Myanmar near its borders with Thailand and Laos.

Aid workers praised the country’s regime for its speedy response to that quake, in contrast to the mishandling of previous natural disasters by the military junta that ruled the country for decades.