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Large quake hits Myanmar near northern Thailand

MYT 2:45:08 AM

CHIANG MAI, Thailand (Reuters) - A large 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Myanmar near the border with northern Thailand on Thursday, killing a woman and shaking buildings in three big cities.

People fled their homes in panic and tremors were felt in Bangkok, central Myanmar and as far away as the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, leading to the evacuation of several tall buildings and offices.

Police in Mae Sai in Thailand's northernmost province of Chiang Rai said a woman had been killed when a wall of her house collapsed. Hospital officials said there were no other deaths or injuries reported in the province.

The quake was centred 111 km (69 miles) north of the town of Chiang Rai, a sparsely populated, hilly area that forms part of the "Golden Triangle", known for growth of illicit opium, and where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet.

The earthquake was shallow at a depth of 6.2 miles (10 km).

Witnesses in northeast Myanmar and northern Thailand said they felt the earthquake strongly and tremors caused widespread panic. Ten aftershocks further jolted the area.

"In 40 years, I never felt an earthquake this strong. A glass broke, I had to hold on to a pillar," Thanawan Sisukniyom, a retired teacher in Mae Sai, told Reuters by telephone.

LIMITED DAMAGE

Hospital staff in the Myanmar town of Kengtung, about 55 km (35 miles) north of the epicentre, said no casualties had been reported. Witnesses said damage appeared limited, but the earthquake sparked fear among residents.

"Many people fled their homes and lay down on the ground outside, away from the buildings," said a resident of Kentung, 80 km (50 miles) west of the epicentre.

"We are still sitting on the ground since there are several aftershocks. In some buildings, TV sets fell off the tables and shrine altars fell down."

People also left their homes in Myanmar's capital Naypyitaw and its biggest city, Yangon, some 550 km (340 miles) away.

Earthquakes of magnitudes of around 5 and as high as 7 have hit northern Myanmar and Thailand several times in the past 15 years, but damage and casualties have been limited and the areas are thinly populated.

Thailand's TPBS television said electricity had been cut off in parts of Mae Sai and showed footage of tiles smashed on the ground and wooden signs that had fallen onto roads.

Wirachai Chaisakaew, head of maintenance at the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, said the region's hydropower dams, which include the country's largest, remained intact and preliminary searches of facilities revealed no damage.

Witnesses in Chiang Mai, the country's second-largest city, reported no immediate damage to buildings. A resident of the Myanmar town of Tachilek, which borders Chiang Rai, said parked motorcycles fell to the ground and cracks opened in the road.

Somchai Baimuang, deputy director of the Thai meteorological department, said new aftershocks were possible in the next two days, but no tsunami warning had been issued.

"It was not a small quake, but we urge the public to not panic," he told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun in Yangon and Ambika Ahuja in Bangkok; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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