Five dead in Myanmar quake

A major earthquake hit central Myanmar today near Mandalay, its second-biggest city, but reports suggested damage was limited and officials contacted knew of only five dead, although several construction workers were missing.

The 6.6 magnitude earthquake struck around 60km northwest of Mandalay, the U.S Geological Survey said. It was quite shallow at around 10km deep.

"I've never felt such a strong tremor. I also heard some loud noises and the light went out. No idea about the damage," one Mandalay resident said by telephone.

Several very strong aftershocks hit the region but there were no reports of serious damage in Mandalay.

Residents in Bangkok, the capital of neighbouring Thailand, also felt the quake.

An official at Mandalay Meteorological Department said the epicentre was near the town of Shwebo and struck at 7:41 a.m. (local time).

Local media said a half-built bridge over the Irrawaddy River between Kyauk Myaung and Singgu had collapsed.

A police officer in Shwebo, the administrative centre, said one woman had died and 10 people had been injured in Kyauk Myaung.

"A house collapsed in Kyauk Myaung. The Radana Thinga Bridge, still under construction, over the river was badly damaged. A huge steel beam fell into the river and five workers went missing," he told Reuters.

A police officer in Singgu Township opposite Kyauk Myaung on the east side of the Irrawaddy told Reuters that four people had died there and another nine were injured in the earthquake.

"Those injured are not in a critical condition. We are still monitoring the damage and casualties in the environs," he said.

State television, the usual mouthpiece for government statements in Myanmar along with state-run newspapers, gave a report on the quake that did not mention casualties or damage.

Local media reported minor damage in several areas around Mandalay, including Amarapura, a town popular with tourists because of its monasteries and the longest teak bridge in the world. Pagodas had been damaged there, media said.

Myanmar is among Asia's poorest countries.

A quasi-civilian government has opened up the country since taking over in March 2011 from the military, which had ruled for nearly 50 years.

The military regime was condemned by humanitarian agencies in 2008 for initially refusing international help to cope with Cyclone Nargis, which killed more than 130,000 people.

President Barack Obama is set to become the first U.S. leader to visit Myanmar this month, the strongest international endorsement of the country's fragile democratic transition.

Obama will travel to Myanmar during a November 17-20 tour of Southeast Asia that will also take in Thailand and Cambodia. It will be his first international trip since winning a second term last week.

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