12 feared dead in strong Myanmar earthquake

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YANGON, Myanmar -- A magnitude-6.8 earthquake struck northern Myanmar yesterday morning, collapsing a bridge and a gold mine, damaging several old Buddhist pagodas and leaving as many as 12 people feared dead.

A slow release of official information left the actual extent of the damage unclear. Despite having lost 140,000 people to a devastating cyclone in 2008, Myanmar has a poor official disaster response system.

Mandalay, the second-biggest city and the nearest population center to the main quake, reported no casualties or major damage. Mandalay lies about 72 miles south of the quake's epicenter near the town of Shwebo.

The U.S. Geological Society reported a 5.8-magnitude aftershock later in the day, but there were no initial reports of new damage or casualties.

Smaller towns closer to the main quake's epicenter were worse-hit. A report late yesterday on state television MRTV said 100 homes, some government buildings and a primary school were damaged in Thabeikyin, a town known for gold mining not far from the epicenter. It put the latest casualty toll there at four dead, 53 injured and four missing, a death toll lower than independently compiled tallies of around a dozen.

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The area surrounding the epicenter is underdeveloped, and casualty reports were coming in piecemeal, mostly from local media. The region is a center for mining of metals and gemstones, and several mines were reported to have collapsed.

The biggest single death toll was reported by a local administrative officer in Sintku township, on the Irrawaddy River near the quake's epicenter, who told The Associated Press that six people had died there and another 11 were injured. He said some of the dead were miners who were killed when a gold mine collapsed.


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