Rescuers struggle to reach Myanmar quake areas

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Yangon, Mar 26: Rescuers today struggled to reach remote Myanmar towns hit by a powerful earthquake which killed 75 as rare images from the area showed roads torn apart and wooden homes reduced to piles of timber.

The 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck in the east of the country near the borders with Thailand and Laos and was felt as far away as the Vietnamese capital Hanoi.

The towns of Tarlay, Tachileik and nearby villages in Myanmar's Shan state appear to have been most severely affected by the quake, which flattened hundreds of houses and toppled monasteries and government buildings.

A few images from the area on Thai television and exiled media show roads torn apart by huge cracks, bridges destroyed and wooden homes reduced to piles of timber.

One resident, posting anonymously on an Internet forum, described Tachileik town as "ruined".

"People here are still afraid... Many people slept on the ground where the Buddhist ceremony used to be held. They might go back their homes today as there was no earthquake last night," he said.

"I hope there is not another earthquake because our situation is not very good as we cannot get any concrete assistance from the authorities."

Many people were getting their news from Thai radio.

A Myanmar official said there had been no official increase in the toll from yesterday''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.

The region affected was already difficult to reach before the quake and the military government tends to keep a tight grip on information and access to remote areas.

The official said the social welfare relief and resettlement minister left for Tachileik from Naypyidaw today "to give assistance to those affected areas".

Sai Thein Aung, a Shan Nationalities Democratic Party member of parliament for Tachileik, said he had only just been able to get in contact with the area, although most telephone lines are still down.

"We never expected this kind of natural disaster and we have not much experience in the past with this kind of thing. That is why I worry for my people," he said.

Houses and temples were also damaged in northern Thailand.

The United States expressed its condolences to Myanmar yesterday.

"On behalf of President (Barack) Obama and the people of the United States, I offer our sincere condolences for the loss of life and damage caused by the earthquake in Burma, near the borders with Thailand and Laos," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, using the former name of Myanmar.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this tragedy," she said.

AFP

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