At least 13 people were killed and 40 taken to hospital after a powerful earthquake struck central Myanmar Sunday, a government official said, after the tremor sparked panic in the country’s second-largest city.
“According to the information we have so far, two people died and three were injured because of the earthquake, while five are still missing,” the official in the capital Naypyidaw told AFP, asking not to be named.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake measuring 6.8 magnitude struck central Myanmar on, around 60 km (37 miles) northwest of the city of Mandalay.
Residents from Mandalay, the second biggest commercial city in central Myanmar, told Reuters that they felt a very strong tremor at about 7:30 a.m.
“I’ve never felt such strong tremor. I also heard some loud noises and the light went out. No idea about the damage,” a local resident said.
There were no immediate reports of building collapses but construction standards are generally poor in the country formerly known as Burma, one of Asia’s most impoverished nations.
A large crack stretching from the second to the sixth floor of Mandalay’s highest building, the 25-storey Mann Myanmar Plaza, appeared after the quake, a local resident told AFP.
He said people were afraid to enter the structure and it remains closed.
Several very strong aftershocks also hit the region.
Mandalay Meteorological Department said the quake hit on the west bank of the Ayeyawaddy River, Myanmar’s largest river and most important commercial waterway, but it had not yet received reports of damage.
Residents in Bangkok, the capital of neighboring Thailand, also said they felt the strong quake.
Myanmar is among Asia’s poorest countries and earthquakes are quite common. Its quasi-civilian government has opened up the country since taking over in March 2011 from the military, which had ruled for nearly 50 years, and pushed through political and economic reforms, leading Western countries to relax sanctions.
For the past months, Myanmar was a theatre to several massacres of Rohingya Muslims by extremist Buddhists.