Sunday 11 November 2012

Northern Myanmar shaken by series of Earthquakes.

On Sunday 11 November 2012, slightly after 7.40 am local time (slightly after 1.10 am, GMT) the United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 6.8 Earthquake at a depth of 9.8 km in northern Myanmar (Burma), 117 km north of Mandalay. This is a very large Earthquake at a shallow depth in a rapidly industrializing area of an underdeveloped nation, an extremely dangerous combination of factors; the United States Geological Survey estimate that a quake on this scale in this area would have a 97% chance of leading to fatalities. Were this not bad enough, the quake have been followed, at the time of writing (8.00 pm, GMT), by at least 4 further quakes in excess of Magnitude 5, which would normally be considered serious events in themselves.

Map showing the distribution of quakes in Myanmar on 11 November 2012. The largest square represents the initial, and biggest, quake, the red square the most recent. The red line is the margin between the Indian Plate (to the west) and the Eurasian Plate (to the East). USGS.

The extent of damage on the ground is not yet clear, but there appear to have been a considerable number of casualties. Several ancient monuments, including at least one monastery, are said to have collapsed, as is a bridge being constructed over the River Irrawaddy, and several mines (the area produces gold and precious minerals). It is unclear if the extent of the damage will be revealed by the government of Myanmar once it is known; the country has a history of extreme secretiveness, and while it claims to be in a process of reforming after years of military dictatorship, many journalists trying to contact the country after todays events report government officials would only talk to them on condition of anonymity.

The remains of a bridge being constructed over the Irrawaddy near Shwebo, which collapsed as a result of the 11 November 2012 Earthquakes. It is thought that at least two workers on the bridge were killed by the collapse. Associated Press.

Badly damaged pagoda at Ma La. Reuters.

Northern Myanmar is an area fairly prone to Earthquakes. It lies close to the margin between the Indian and Eurasian Plates, and suffers tectonic stresses due to the northward movement of the Indian Plate, which is driving into the Eurasian Plate at a rate of about 30 mm per year, causing uplift in the Himalayan Mountains, the Tibetan Plateaux, the mountains of Central Asia, and the bordering hills that separate Myanmar from India and China.

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