November 12, 2004 – Deadly Myanmar Quake Destroys Bridge and Mine with 12 Feared Dead: A strong earthquake struck northern Myanmar on Sunday, collapsing a bridge and a gold mine and damaging several old Buddhist pagodas. As many as 12 people are feared dead. Pictured above, a rescue boat worked near a bridge that had been under construction near Shwebo, Myanmar.
Official information was being released slowly, leaving the actual extent of the damage unclear after the quake, which had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8. Myanmar, formerly Burma, has a poor official disaster response system; it lost about 140,000 people to a devastating cyclone in 2008.
Myanmar’s second-biggest city, Mandalay, reported no casualties or major damage. It is about 72 miles south of the quake’s epicenter near the town of Shwebo.
Smaller towns closer to the main quake’s epicenter were hit harder.
The area surrounding the epicenter is underdeveloped, and casualty reports were being announced in a piecemeal fashion, mostly from the local news media. The region is a center for the mining of minerals and gemstones, and several mines were reported to have collapsed.
The evening news on state television showed Vice President Sai Maul Hkam visiting the town of Thabeikyin, where the report said 102 homes, 21 religious buildings, 48 government offices and four schools had been damaged. The town, a gold-mining center near the quake’s epicenter, reported that 3 people had been killed and 35 injured. The total number of officially confirmed casualties was 6 dead and 64 injured.
Independently compiled tallies suggested that the death toll was closer to a dozen.
An official from Myanmar’s Meteorological Department said the quake struck at 7:42 a.m. local time.
The United States Geological Survey reported an aftershock of magnitude 5.8 later Sunday, but there were no initial reports of new damage or casualties.
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 said that 6 people had died there and that 11 had been injured.
He said some of the dead were miners who were killed when a gold mine collapsed. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because local officials are normally not allowed to release information to the news media.
The Web site of the magazine Weekly Eleven said 4 people were killed and 25 injured when a bridge under construction across the Irrawaddy River collapsed east of Shwebo. The local government announced a toll of 2 dead and 16 injured. All of the victims appeared to be workers.
However, a Shwebo police officer, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said just one person was confirmed dead from the bridge’s collapse, while five were unaccounted for.
Weekly Eleven also said two monasteries in Kyaukmyaung collapsed, killing two people.
“This is the worst earthquake I felt in my entire life,” said Soe Soe, 52, a Shwebo resident.
State television reported that more than a dozen pagodas and stupas in five townships were damaged.
The uppermost parts of the pagodas’ domes usually contain encased relics of the Buddha and small Buddha images, and sometimes jewels. Damage to them is taken as an especially bad omen.
The epicenter is in a region frequently hit by small quakes that usually cause little damage. But a magnitude 6.8 quake killed 74 people and injured 111 last year.
The earthquake on Sunday struck just a week ahead of a scheduled visit to Myanmar by President Obama. He will be the first American president to visit the nation, which is emerging from decades of military rule. (Credits – The New York Times and Getty Images).
The Master of Disaster