Myanmar Government Promises to Rebuild Bagan Following Earthquake

The top of a collapsed pagoda is seen after an earthquake in Bagan, Myanmar August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

A powerful earthquake shook Myanmar last Wednesday, killing at least three people and damaging more than 100 ancient Buddhist pagodas in the former capital of Bagan, a major tourist site.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 6.8 quake was centered about 15 miles west of Chauk, a town south of Bagan. It struck quite far below the earth’s surface at a depth of about 52 miles, the agency said. Deep quakes usually cause less surface damage.

At least 200 pagodas in Bagan were damaged, local newspapers reported. Bagan has more than 2,200 structures, including pagodas and temples constructed from the 10th to the 14th centuries. Many are in disrepair while others have been restored in recent years, partially supported by UNESCO, which was not allowed to work with Myanmar during the days of the military dictatorship.

The vast site is Myanmar’s premier tourist attraction, featuring a panoramic view of temples stretching to the horizon flanked by the Irrawaddy River. Dr. Myo Thant, general secretary of the Myanmar Earthquake Committee, said other areas apparently weren’t badly affected.

Vincent Panzani, a staff member in Pakokku for the aid agency Save the Children, said several of his colleagues from the area described the earthquake as the strongest they had experienced. “We felt quite heavy shaking for about 10 seconds and started to evacuate the building when there was another strong tremor,” he said in comments sent by email.

“Most of the reports of damage have been to the pagodas in the area with dozens impacted,” he said. “There have also been reports of damage to smaller, more basic buildings including a collapsed wall and a destroyed roof.”

Worried residents of Yangon, the country’s main city, rushed out of tall buildings, and objects toppled from tables and from Buddhist shrines in homes. However, there were no reports of serious damage in the city. The quake was felt in a half-dozen states in neighbouring India, where people dashed out of offices and homes in several places. It also caused buildings to sway in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital. There were no immediate reports of damage in either country.

Myanmar Foreign Minister and de facto government’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged the government not to rush to repair the damaged pagodas and temples, asking about careful feasibility and study before starting any reconstruction. The government blames some of the collapses to hasty renovations of the pagodas in recent years without taking into consideration the structure and materials.

Aung San Suu Kyi urged the various ministers in charge of the reconstruction to first draw up a project plan with the technical assistance from the World Heritage Centre of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. The UNESCO office in Yangon has deployed experts to assess the damage.

(Sources: Associated Press and Global New Light of Myanmar)