Powerful quake in NE Myanmar kills more than 70

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - A powerful earthquake that toppled homes in northeastern Myanmar has killed more than 70 people, and there were fears the toll would mount as conditions in more remote areas became known.

The Thursday night quake, measured at magnitude 6.8 by the U.S. Geological Survey, was centered just north of Tachileik town in Shan State near the Thai border. It was felt hundreds of miles (kilometers) away in the Thai capital, Bangkok, and the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.

Myanmar state radio announced Friday that 73 people had been killed and 111 injured. It said 390 houses, 14 Buddhist monasteries and nine government buildings were damaged. Earlier in the day, news broadcasts had put the death toll at 74. No explanation was given for the decrease.

Significant damage was reported in the villages around Tachileik, including to bridges and roads, which developed massive fissures, complicated relief efforts.

A U.N. official said a small hospital and bridge were damaged in the nearby town of Tarlay, making it difficult to access the town. The private relief agency World Vision said water tanks and wells were also damaged, making water scarce.

On the Thai side of the border, one woman was killed in Mae Sai when a wall fell on her, according to Thai police, but damage was otherwise minimal.

The U.N. official said medicine would be sent to the affected areas as soon as possible along with an assessment team in cooperation with the Myanmar Red Cross Society. He said 95,000 people were estimated to live near the quake's epicenter, but it was unknown how many suffered damage from it.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Myanmar's government frowns on giving unauthorized information to the media.

Other relief efforts also were gearing up. World Vision said that at the request of the government, it would provide 250 households with basic necessities, such as food and water.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered the United States' "sincere condolences."

"Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this tragedy," she said in a statement.

Most of rural Myanmar, 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.

In 2008, the government delayed reporting on - and asking for help with - devastating Cyclone Nargis, which killed 130,000 people. The junta was widely criticized for what were called inadequate preparations and a slow response to the disaster.

Somchai Hatayatanti, the governor of Thailand's 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 (90 kilometers) from the epicenter, including a provincial hospital and city hall. The tops of spires fell from at least two Buddhist temples.

As a precaution for aftershocks, a relief center was being set up Friday in Mae Sai.

"We are worried that the area might be hit with stronger quakes. There was another quake at 7 a.m. 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."


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