Tarlay, Myanmar (AFP) March 26, 2011
Survivors surveyed the wreckage of their Myanmar villages on Saturday as details of an earthquake that left 75 dead and reduced homes to rubble began to trickle out of remote areas.
The powerful 6.8 magnitude quake struck in the east of the country near the borders with Thailand and Laos late on Thursday and was felt as far away as the Vietnamese capital Hanoi.
Tachileik town and nearby Tarlay and Mong Lin in Myanmar's Shan state appeared to have been most severely affected by the quake, which flattened hundreds of houses and toppled monasteries and government buildings.
In Tarlay a few rescue teams were seen picking through the rubble of buildings, a bridge was destroyed and roads were riven with huge cracks.
"The whole village is gone," said Nan Myint, tearfully explaining that she had lost her father, nephew and sister-in-law in the quake, which happened while she was in Yangon.
"I came back as soon as I heard about the earthquake. Some of my relatives are still in the hospital in Tachileik," she told AFP, adding authorities have supported her with a 350,000 kyat (about $400) payment.
"I have no idea what we should do in the future because my house is totally destroyed. I do not want to stay here."
The charity World Vision, which said around 15,000 people may have been affected in the worst-hit areas, is sending in first aid kits and tarpaulins to give emergency shelter for up to 2,500 families.
"This is an immediate concern as even last night there was rain," said Chris Herink, the charity's Myanmar country director in Yangon.
A Myanmar official said there had been no official increase in the toll from Friday's figure of 74. One woman was also killed in Thailand.
"There might be some places we still cannot reach because of the communication and transportation problems. The death toll could rise," the official added.
Strong aftershocks continued into Saturday.
A motorcycle taxi driver in Tachileik told AFP that things were "calm" in the town. "We were frightened in the beginning, but now we are trying to get back to normal," he said.
The region affected was already difficult to reach before the quake, access to the area by foreigners is restricted and the military dominated government tends to keep a tight grip on information.
The ruling junta was widely criticised for refusing foreign assistance for weeks after cyclone Nargis wrought devastation across the Irrawaddy Delta in May 2008, leaving more than 138,000 people either killed or missing.
But Herink said his organisation, which is working in the affected areas with the Myanmar Red Cross and UNICEF, had found the government had been "proactively seeking our assistance and providing information to us".
A report by authorities in Tarlay, translated by the charity, described the emergency response, with soldiers helping to rescue people within the first hours.
The social welfare relief and resettlement minister went to Tachileik from the capital Naypyidaw on Saturday.
But one Tachileik resident, posting anonymously on an Internet forum, expressed frustration with the authorities, describing the town as "ruined".
"I hope there is not another earthquake because our situation is not very good as we cannot get any concrete assistance from the authorities," the resident said.
Many people were getting their news from Thai radio rather than sources in Myanmar, while state media appeared keen to downplay the disaster, with the first mention of the earthquake on page 11 of Saturday's New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
"We never expected this kind of natural disaster... That is why I worry for my people," said Sai Thein Aung, a Shan Nationalities Democratic Party member of parliament for Tachileik.
The United States expressed its condolences, while Thailand donated money and said it was ready to offer additional assistance.
India, which has close ties with Myanmar's military regime, said it was ready to give any help that may be needed.
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At least 75 killed in Myanmar quake
Yangon (AFP) March 25, 2011
At least 75 people were killed and hundreds left homeless Friday after a strong earthquake hit Myanmar, as aid workers said it could be days before the extent of the damage becomes clear. Tremors were felt as far away as Bangkok, almost 800 kilometres (500 miles) from the epicentre, Hanoi and parts of China when the magnitude 6.8 quake hit late on Thursday. Buildings were flattened close ... read more
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