A strong earthquake of magnitude-6.8 struck northern Burma today, 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; the epicenter was near the town of Shwebo. Burma has a poor official disaster response system, despite having lost upwards of 140,000 people to a devastating cyclone in 2008. The US Geological Society reported a 5.8-magnitude aftershock later today, but there were no reports of new damage or casualties.
A report 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. The region is a center for mining of minerals and gemstones, and some of the dead were miners who were killed when a gold mine collapsed. Several people died when a bridge under construction across the Irrawaddy River collapsed east of Shwebo. 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, a 52-year-old Shwebo resident. Many in Burma are superstitious, and it is likely that local soothsayers will point out that the quake occurred on the 11th day of the 11th month. (Read more Burma stories.)