By BosNewsLife Asia Service
RANGOON, BURMA (BosNewsLife)– Christians were among thousands of families trying to rebuild their homes and churches in northeastern Burma Tuesday, March 29, following a 6.8 magnitude earth quake that killed at least scores of people, Christian missionaries said.
Most of the death and destruction occurred in the northeastern ‘Golden Triangle’ area where Burma, Laos and Thailand’s borders meet each other, said Christian Aid Mission (CAM), a group closely working with native missionaries in the area.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said Tuesday, March 29, at least 74 people were killed and 120 injured in the earthquake, which struck Thursday, March 24, in Burma, also known as Myanmar, just north of the Thai border.
Burma’s military government has been reluctant to publish exact death tolls in previous disasters and CAM cited officials as saying as many as 300 may have been killed in the quake, with aftershocks continuing over the weekend.
The quake was felt hundreds of miles away from the epicenter in Rangoon, also known as Yangon, as well as in Bangkok, Thailand, and the Vietnamese cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, missionaries said.
CAM said the earthquake hit an isolated, rural area where it has assisted indigenous missions among the Akha and Lahu people and other groups.
Worst-hit effected areas were the towns of Tachileik, Tarlay and Mong Lin, all in Shan state of Burma, witnesses said. Pictures showed flattened buildings and roads that were split in two when the ground shifted during the quake.
“Thousands of families are homeless and several churches were destroyed or severely damaged in hard to reach villages,” said Stephen Van Valkenburg, CAM’s overseas director for Southeast Asia.
His U.S-based organization set up an emergency relief fund to help victims. “As in most such disasters medical help for the injured comes first, then long term efforts to rebuild homes, churches, Christian orphanages and schools as well as native missionary training centers,” Valkenburg told BosNewsLife in a statement.
The earthquake was also expected to put additional pressure on predominantly Christian ethnic groups, who have reportedly faced a crackdown by Burma’s ruling military, with thousands fleeing to neighboring Thailand.
Despite the reported difficulties, CAM said it has been assisting native missionary efforts in Burma since 1954.
Minority Christians face difficulties in Burma as it is ruled by a military junta which suppresses almost all dissent and wields absolute power, local Christians and several rights activists say.
The generals and the army face international sanctions over reported human rights abuses, including also the forcible relocation of civilians and the widespread use of forced labor, which includes children.