At least 3 dead after 6.8 magnitude quake hits Burma

A 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit central Burma on Wednesday, damaging temples and killing at least three people.

94 temples damaged in Bagan, a tourist hot spot and home to ancient Buddhist pagodas

At least three people are dead after an earthquake struck Burma on Wednesday. Sacred temples, known as pagodas, have been damaged in the ancient city of Bagan. (CBC)

A powerful 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Burma on Wednesday morning, killing at least three people and damaging temples in the ancient temple city of Bagan.

"The ground was moving up and down and we were being shaken in all directions," Daw Tin Tin Sein, 61, who runs the Glorious Bagan Hotel, told CBC News. "We were all so shocked." 

Local media reports said two children, aged six and 16, were among the dead in the country that is also known as Myanmar. It was reported that they died when a riverbank collapsed on them.

A young man was killed after a building collapsed, local officials said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement told CBC that one of the deaths was in the town of Chauk and two were in Yay Nan Chaung. Both towns are in the Magway region of central Burma where the earthquake struck at around 5 p.m. local time.

"There may be aftershocks so we are working with local news broadcasters to tell people what to do and what not to do in an earthquake," said U Soe Aung,

He added that an assessment of the damage was underway and the ministry was working on providing relief.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake's epicentre was about 25 kilometres west of Chauk. Around 185,000 people live in Chauk and the surrounding countryside.

The quake struck at an "intermediate" depth of 84 kilometres, the USGS said. The more shallow an earthquake hits, the more likely it is to cause surface damage.

'Very sad'

At least 94 brick pagodas, or temples, in Bagan were damaged, the Ministry of Religious and Cultural Affairs said in a statement. 

Bagan has been tipped for UNESCO World Heritage site status and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Also known as Pagan, it has 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.

The earthquake struck when many would have been sitting on the temples to watch the sunset, a tourist ritual at the historic site. 

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 Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was in contact with authorities in Burma and along with its partners stands ready to support the government and local organizations "should any humanitarian support be needed."

In this file photo from February 2013, people wait to see the sunset from the top of Shwesandaw Pagoda in the ancient city of Bagan, Burma. The city was rocked by an earthquake on Wednesday. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

Footage and images posted on social media showed chunks falling from the temples, which were built between the 10th and 14th centuries.

"It makes me very sad," said hotel manager Sein. "We have reconstructed our ancient monuments and now we just want it to stay as it is." 

No buildings were reported to have been damaged in Burma's administrative capital, Naypyidaw, or in the major cities of Mandalay and Rangoon. 

In Rangoon, Burma's largest city and former capital, apartment buildings rocked for around 40 seconds as the tremors hit.

Other countries rattled

The impact of the earthquake was also felt in Thailand, India and Bangladesh. Local media reports said at least 20 people were injured in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, as they fled from a building.

Charities including Oxfam and Save the Children said they are monitoring the situation in Burma and are ready to respond.

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. There have also been reports of damage to smaller, more basic buildings including a collapsed wall and a destroyed roof."

Bagan was last hit by a major earthquake in 1975, which damaged many temples. The country's military junta restored many of the temples in the 1990s, though this restoration was widely condemned as substandard by the international community.

The quake in Burma, also known as Myanmar, could be felt as far away as eastern India. Here, workers in Calcutta who felt the shaking wait to return to their offices. (Bikas Das/Associated Press)

With files from Associated Press