6.8 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Myanmar Ahead of Barack Obama's Visit

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By Sreeja V N | November 11, 2012 5:59 PM EST

A powerful earthquake hit the city of Shwebo in central Myanmar early Sunday causing residents to flee their homes.  Local media reported 5 deaths and scattered damage to property.

The 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck the west bank of the Irrawaddy River, 60 km northwest of Mandalay, at a depth of just 10 km at about 7.30 a.m. local time, Reuters reported quoting U.S. Geological Survey.

A series of aftershocks followed the earthquake which were initially measured at 7.0 magnitude.

Initial reports had suggested no damage to life or property from the quake. However, local media reports said 5 persons were killed when a bridge under construction collapsed because of the tremors.

An Associated Press report quoting witnesses said some structures of Buddhist temples and Pagodas were damaged, while walls of several houses cracked in Shwebo.

Witnesses told Reuters that strong tremors were also felt in Mandalay.

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

"I ran from my bed carrying my daughter out to the street. There were many people in the road. Some were shouting and others felt dizzy," Mandalay resident San Yu Kyaw told AFP.  

Myanmar, one of the most under-developed countries in Asia, was a reclusive state under military rule till 2011. The country kickstarted political and economic reforms after a military-backed civilian government took over the reins in 2011. Since then, the western nations have relaxed economic sanctions on Myanmar.

The quakes struck a week ahead of President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to Myanmar.

Obama is the first U.S. president to visit the South-east Asian nation, which is slowly aligning with other Asian economies after ending decades-long military rule.  

Obama’s visit indicates the U.S. interest in improving trade relations and an approval of the democratization process in the former pariah nation.  

Tremors were also felt in Bangkok, the capital of the neighboring country, Thailand. 

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