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September 22, 2009

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Earthquake brings death and destruction to remote Bhutan

AT least 10 people died and dozens of others were injured when a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck Bhutan yesterday, the state-run Bhutan Broadcasting Service said.

The quake was centered about 125 kilometers north of Gauhati and 180 kilometers east of the capital, Thimphu, at a depth of 7.2 kilometers, the United States Geological Survey said.

At least five people were killed in Mongar district, the epicenter of the quake, while the rest died in landslides in other remote areas of the mountainous region, the radio report said.

"Houses, and monasteries and roads have been damaged. Mobile services are clogged," Lungthen Dorji, the governor of the eastern Trashigang district said.

"The aftershocks were felt at least six to seven times," a teacher from the town of Kanglung in Trashigang district told radio listeners.

Tremors were felt in the bordering Indian state of Assam and West Bengal.

The afternoon earthquake was initially reported in Gauhati, the capital of India's northeastern Assam state.

Much of Bhutan is sparsely populated, reachable only by walking paths and without electricity or telephones.

"We're trying to piece together information to assess the damage," Ugyen Tenzing, the country's director of disaster management said from the capital. He said at least seven people were killed when their houses collapsed in the eastern districts of Munggar and Trashigang, and rescuers were searching for survivors under the debris of other buildings. He had no further details.

Most buildings in the region are small farmhouses made of mud and stone with tin roofs.

"I dragged my family out. We ran down the staircase from our third-floor apartment," said Sadeq Hazarika, an Assam state official who lives in Gauhati.

"We saw our building developing a big crack. This was the biggest tremor I felt in many years."

The region has been hit by major earthquakes in the past, including in 1950 and 1897. Assam has been shaken by a series of small earthquakes in recent weeks.

The quake briefly rocked Bhutan's capital.

"We felt a strong shock for a moment - one second. People panicked and rushed out of their homes and businesses," said Tashi Dhendup, who runs a travel agency in Thimphu. He was not aware of any damage to buildings in the city.

The quake was also felt in Bangladesh and Lhasa, capital of China's Tibet Autonomous Region, but there were no signs of damage in either place, officials said.


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