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

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A powerful earthquake hit the city of Shwebo in central Myanmar early Sunday, leaving at least five people dead and several others missing.

The 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck the west bank of the Irrawaddy River, 60 km (40 miles) northwest of Mandalay, at a depth of just 10 km at about 7.30 a.m. local time, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

A series of aftershocks followed the first quake, which was initially measured at 7.0 magnitude.

Though the initial reports suggested no damage to life or property, local media reports said five people were killed when a bridge under construction collapsed because of the tremors.

An Associated Press report quoting witnesses said some Buddhist temples and pagodas were damaged, while the 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.  

Tremors were felt as far as Bangkok, the capital of neighboring Thailand. 

Myanmar, one of the most under-developed countries in Asia, was a reclusive state under military rule till 2011. The country kick started political and economic reforms after a military-backed civilian government which 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 Southeast 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 launch of democratization process in the former pariah nation.  

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