Mae Sai: At least 75 people were killed in a strong earthquake that struck Myanmar, state media said on Friday, while a series of aftershocks have caused panic but only limited damage in Thailand and Laos.
The death toll from Thursday`s 6.8 magnitude tremor was expected to rise slightly in Myanmar after 225 homes and nine government buildings were destroyed. Over 100 people were injured, according to state television.
The quake sparked panic, but no major damage, in other countries across Southeast Asia. This month`s devastating Japan quake and tsunami have revived memories of the even more powerful 2004 Indonesia quake and tsunami which killed around 226,000 people.
An aftershock of an estimated magnitude of 5.5 rattled Thailand on Friday but caused limited damage, although residents living in properties close to the epicenter were advised to leave their homes.
The initial quake shook the famous "Golden Triangle" region, where Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet. It was felt in the capital cities of Thailand and Myanmar and as far away as Vietnam, where people evacuated tall buildings.
It was 6.2 miles below the surface but caused only slight damage on the Thai side
The town of Tachilek in Myanmar was badly hit by Thursday`s quake. People fled their homes and cracks were seen in the roads.
"We were extremely frightened to enter the house since there were several strong aftershocks," a teacher said by telephone. "Some people are haunted by what they saw on TV about the recent earthquake in Japan."
Witnesses crossing the border into Thailand said a large tent had been set up on a soccer field for hundreds of people whose homes were destroyed. Officials said nine government offices and 10 Buddhist monasteries were destroyed.
The Red Cross said a hospital in Tachilek had been damaged and trained local volunteers had been mobilised to provide relief and first aid.
Fears of aftershocks
"We were extremely frightened to enter the house since there were several strong aftershocks," a local teacher said by telephone.
"Some people are haunted by what they saw on TV about the recent earthquake in Japan."
Several earthquakes of magnitudes 5 to as high as 7 have hit northern Myanmar and Thailand in the past 15 years, but damage and casualties have been limited.
Thursday`s quake was centred 111 km (69 miles) north of Chiang Rai in a sparsely populated, hilly area. It forms part of the "Golden Triangle”, a place where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet and which is infamous for the cultivation of illicit opium.
In Chiang Rai, Thailand`s northernmost province which borders Myanmar, little damage was seen. The spires of several Buddhist pagodas were bent, some tiles were smashed and a few cracks were seen on the ground close to a hotel.
"There was also slight damage at some government offices and houses but nothing that led to total collapse or that immediately compromised building structures," Somchai Hatyatanti, the provincial governor, said.
Police confirmed one woman was killed on Thursday when a wall of her house collapsed in the province`s Mae Sai district.
A hospital in Mae Sai, the biggest Thai town close to the epicentre, said it had not received any patients after Thursday`s earthquake. Power was briefly knocked out and some telephone lines were down.
Vibul Sguanpong, director general of Thailand`s Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, said there had been dozens of aftershocks.
"We urge those in very old houses or tall, old buildings near the northern border with Myanmar to check for cracks and other signs of damage, and consider leaving for the next two days while aftershocks are likely," he said.