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Worst could be yet to come, warns Thai seismologist

Rubble lies strewn around a temple in Bagan in the aftermath of a strong earthquake that struck Burma on 24 August 2016. (Photo: DVB)

Geologists in Thailand remain on high alert following Wednesday’s earthquake in Burma, which was felt as far away as Bangkok.

The 6.8-magnitude temblor rocked the historic Burmese city of Bagan, killing at least four people and damaging nearly 200 pagodas. However, no aftershocks have been reported, raising fears among scientists that it may have merely been a foreshock preceding a more powerful quake.

It was “unusual” that no aftershocks have yet occurred, said Suwit Khosuwan, chief of the Environment Geology Bureau’s active fault research unit.

The quake hit western Burma at 5:34pm on Wednesday. It was also felt across northern Thailand and even in Bangkok, particularly on the higher floors of tall buildings.

Geologists will keep a close watch on the group of Arakan faults that triggered the quake for the next two or three days, or until aftershocks register.

Suwit’s bureau is working closely with the Meteorology Department to monitor 100 quake-measuring stations across the country for new vibrations. If there is a wave of aftershocks, their magnitude should be small, ranging between 5.1 and 6, Suwit said.

Aftershocks would “relieve our worries”, Suwit said, because that would indicate Wednesday’s quake was the main one. Until a lesser-magnitude temblor occurs, geologists cannot rule out the possibility that Wednesday’s quake was a foreshock, with a more powerful one yet to come. Suwit said this could register as high as magnitude-7, which would pose a threat to northern and eastern Thai provinces.

Bangkok would also be affected, he said, as the natural terrain in the capital is mainly soft, which would amplify the effects of an earthquake. Geologists will closely monitor situations, especially in Kanchanaburi, where the Sisawat and Three Pagoda faults are situated. Experts need to examine these fault lines for any changes since Wednesday’s quake, said Montri Lueangingtasut, chief of Bureau of Mineral Resources.

The Srinagarind and Vajiralongkorn dams in Kanchanaburi are safe and so are Bhumibol dam in Tak and Sirikit dam in Uttaradit, said Decha Bunyakan, who is chief of maintenance for the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand.

Their Majesties the King and Queen yesterday sent letters of condolence to Burma and Italy to express concerns over the damage and casualties in the two countries, according to the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary. The quake in Burma erupted on the same day as another 6-magnitude quake hit Amatrice, Italy, claiming more than 240 lives.

Culture Minister Vira Rojpojchanarat said yesterday he will send experts from the Fine Arts Department to survey damage and provide help with restoration work in Bagan. Media crews have reported the destruction of many ageing buildings in the city.

Meanwhile, a 2-magnitude quake was reported in Chiang Rai’s Mae Suai district yesterday afternoon, but there was no damage, according to the Meteorology Department.