Sunday's earthquake caused a half-built bridge to collapse on the Ayeyarwaddy River (photo by Daniel Wynn)
For the residents of Thebeikkyin village in Myanmar’s northern Sagaing Division, Sunday morning was the most frightening moment of their lives.
At 7:42 a.m., this small community was hit with a powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake that destroyed 120 houses here and many more in the area as it rattled villages on the east and western banks of the Ayeryarwaddy River, the country’s largest.
“It came like a tsunami onto the shore. You had to lie down on the ground or you would have fallen down. I thought it was the end of the world when my house suddenly broke into pieces and broken bricks started falling,” said Tin Mya, a Thebeikkyin resident.
She is now taking shelter with fellow victims at an emergency relief camp set up in an open field in front of her house.
“We were very lucky because if the quake had come at night when we were sleeping we would have been dead,” said Tin Mya.
Other people in the town were not so lucky. A high school girl was killed when the school hostel in which she lived collapsed on her and 10 other students.
“The falling bricks hit my daughter right on her neck and she never regained consciousness,” said the mother of the dead girl.
Yesterday evening, frightened residents were still living on the street in fear of aftershocks in numerous towns and villages in the affected area.
“It was cold at night to sleep on the street but I feared more shocks were on the way,” said a villager living on the west bank of the Ayeryarwaddy River in the town of Shwebo.
The area lies on a major fault line and sees regular tremors, say local residents, but the earthquake and three plus-five magnitude aftershocks that hit on Sunday were the strongest in living memory.
The epicenter was in nearby Tabaitgine, a small town of just over 4,000 residents which lies 130 kilometers north of Mandalay.
At least three people were killed and 35 others injured there, according to official figures.
The total death toll from Sunday's quake now stands at 13 people, according to reports. It is expected to climb higher since a half-built bridge on the Ayeyarwaddy River in Kyauk Myaung collapsed, sinking a vessel and killing a worker.
Reports said between four and 25 others are still missing at the site as emergency services have struggled to reach this remote, underdeveloped area of Myanmar. So far 18 workers on the bridge have been hospitalized.
Myanmar’s government has been heavily criticized in the past for its slow, inadequate responses to natural disasters and its unwillingness to provide - and even allow - coverage in the news media.
This hard-headed response was especially apparent in May, 2008 when Cyclone Nargis struck the Ayeyarwaddy Delta region in southern Myanmar, killing at least 135,000 people.
At first, the Myanmar government was reluctant to receive any outside help after Nargis which led to deadly delays to the delivery of aid.
The victims of Sunday’s earthquake say they are not very hopeful that they will get support from the authorities in rebuilding their houses but praised them for their quick response to the disaster and the visit of top government officials to affected areas, including Vice President Sai Mauk Kham.
“We are now searching for missing people in the debris while giving food and shelter to the survivors of the quake,” said Aung Maung, the local administrative chief in Thebeikkyin.
Myanmar quake toll rises to 12