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Sunday 4 December 2016

Clean-up begins after Burma earthquake

Published 25/08/2016 | 09:21

Military personnel clear debris at a temple that was damaged by a strong earthquake in Bagan, Burma (AP)
Military personnel clear debris at a temple that was damaged by a strong earthquake in Bagan, Burma (AP)

Soldiers and residents in an ancient city in Burma have begun cleaning up after a powerful earthquake killed at least four people and damaged scores of historic buildings.

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As many as 185 brick pagodas were damaged in Bagan after a 6.8 magnitude quake struck the area on Wednesday. The tremor was centred about 15 miles (25km) west of Chauk, just south of Bagan.

Bagan, also known as Pagan, is one of Burma's top tourist attractions, drawing visitors from all over the world who can view a panorama of temples stretching to the horizon flanked by the Irrawaddy River.

Maria Gomez, a Portuguese tourist, said she was walking to the river to watch the sunset when "we felt the earth moving".

"Everybody was very scared and everybody was shouting," she told the Associated Press. "Only after maybe 30 seconds we realised what was happening."

Bagan is home to more than 2,200 structures, including pagodas and temples constructed from the 10th to the 14th centuries. Many are in disrepair while others have been restored in recent years, aided by the UN cultural agency Unesco.

Zaw Naing, a caretaker at one of the city's pagodas who paints and sells his work to tourists, said he was saddened by the damage - but also worried the quake could endanger the livelihood of many who live there.

"I'm very worried ... there will be less tourists to Bagan," he said. "I have three children to take care of."

As he spoke, soldiers and residents who work in the area could be seen picking up broken red bricks with their bare hands and stuffing them into sacks. Others swept walkways leading to temples that had been engulfed in huge clouds of dust when the tremor struck; the landmark tips perched on the top of some of the pagodas had collapsed.

Local government officials were also inspecting the area and holding meetings about the damage.

On Wednesday, Dr Myo Thant, general secretary of the Myanmar Earthquake Committee, said other areas were apparently not badly affected.

Police officer Htay Win in Pakokku, about 45 miles (70km) from the epicentre, said one person there had been killed and one injured.

"The person was killed by falling bricks from a building," he said.

The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement reported two other deaths in nearby Thitapwe village.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was "saddened" by the loss of life and damage from the earthquake and expressed his condolences to the "people and government" of Burma.

He said the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs was in contact with authorities in Burma and, along with its partners, stands ready to support the government and local organisations.

Vincent Panzani, a staff member in Pakokku for the aid agency Save the Children, said several of his colleagues from the area described the earthquake as the strongest they have experienced.

"We felt quite heavy shaking for about 10 seconds and started to evacuate the building when there was another strong tremor," he said in comments sent by email. "Most of the reports of damage have been to the pagodas in the area with dozens impacted."

Worried residents of Rangoon, the country's main city, rushed out of tall buildings, and objects toppled from tables and from Buddhist shrines in homes. However, there were no reports of serious damage in the city.

The last major quake in the area - which is often affected by smaller tremors - occurred in April about 180 miles (300km) further north, and measured magnitude 6.9. It caused no reported casualties and only minor damage.

AP

Press Association

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