YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A strong earthquake struck northern Myanmar on Sunday, collapsing a bridge, damaging several old Buddhist pagodas and leaving at least six people dead, according to local media reports.
No casualties or major damage was reported in the nearest major population center, Myanmar's second-biggest city of Mandalay, about 117 kilometers (72 miles) south of the quake's epicenter near the town of Shwebo.
An official from the Meteorological Department in the capital, Naypyitaw, said the magnitude-6.8 quake struck at 7:42 a.m. local time.
According to news reports, the most significant damage appeared to be the collapse of bridge under construction across the Irrawaddy River east of Shwebo.
The website of Weekly Eleven magazine said four people were killed and 25 injured when the bridge, which was 80 percent built, collapsed. The local government announced a toll of two dead and 16 injured. All of the victims appeared to be workers.
Weekly Eleven also said two monasteries in the town of Kyaukmyaung collapsed, killing two people.
"This is the worst earthquake I felt in my entire life," Soe Soe, a 52-year-old Shwebo resident, told The Associated Press by phone.
She said that the huge concrete gate of a local monastery collapsed and that several sculptures from another pagoda in the town were damaged.
Other damage was reported in Mogok, a major gem-mining area just east of the quake's epicenter. Temples were damaged there, as were some abandoned mines.
"Landslides occurred at some old ruby mines, but there were no casualties because these are old mines," Sein Win, a Mogok resident, said by phone.
Damage to centuries-old Buddhist temples is a common result of Myanmar earthquakes, but regarded by the superstitious as a bad omen. The so-called "umbrella" atop a stupa in Mogok had reportedly crashed down in Sunday's quake. These uppermost parts of the brick domes usually have encased in them relics of the Buddha and small Buddha images, and sometimes jewels.
Sein Win said police were guarding the damaged stupa and its exposed relics.
A resident of Naypyitaw, which is 365 kilometers (225 miles) south of the quake's epicenter, said several window panes of the parliament building had broken.
The epicenter is in a region frequently hit by small temblors that usually cause little damage.
The quake was felt in Bangkok, the capital of neighboring Thailand. It comes just a week ahead of a scheduled visit to Myanmar by President Barack Obama. He will be the first U.S. president to visit the one-time pariah nation, which is emerging from decades of military rule.