Yanmar took stock of toppled spires and crumbling temple walls in the ancient capital Bagan yesterday after a powerful earthquake hit the country, killing three and damaging the top tourist destination.
Two young girls and a man died in Magway region where the 6.8-magnitude quake struck on Wednesday evening, cracking buildings across the centre of the country and sending tremors that were felt as far away as Bangkok and Kolkata.
Yesterday, Myanmar’s new civilian president Htin Kyaw travelled to Bagan — the country’s most famous archaeological site — to inspect some of the nearly 200 pagodas damaged by the quake.
The ancient city is home to a vast plain of more than 2 500 Buddhist monuments that are
among Myanmar’s most venerated religious sites and a top draw for its growing tourism industry.
Teams of government engineers and architects spent the day surveying the wreckage, while workers cleared piles of bricks, swept the grounds and sorted through fragments of murals.
“We will take experts’ opinions and then try to see what is the best way to restore it, but it will be a very lengthy process and quite expensive,” the president said after visiting several of the damaged stupas.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay said Myanmar’s defacto leader and veteran democracy activist Aung Sang Suu Kyi had urged authorities not to rush in renovating the damaged temples.
“Police are taking measures to prevent the loss of our ancient heritage and cultural artworks,” he said.
Bagan’s sweeping expanse of centuries-old ruins — whichmake for a staggering sunsetvista — have survived wars, earthquakes and tropical sun.
In the city’s heyday, between the ninth and 13th centuries, it was the capital of a powerful kingdom and one of Asia’s most important centres for learning.
“It’s heartbreaking. I cannot even eat,” Tin Hla Oo, a trustee of the Htilominlo pagoda, which was badly damaged by the quake, said. “We are suffering because this is a great loss, as these [pagodas] are priceless.”
Earthquakes are relatively common in Myanmar. The last major quake to seriously damage Bagan struck in 1975 and was followed by a controversial restoration effort under the military junta that stepped down in 2011.Experts said the haphazard renovation work, much of it hastily done with modern materials, significantly altered the original architecture and design of some monuments.
In recent years, as the country undergoes a democratic transition and opens up following decades of isolationist juntarule, Unesco has worked directly with the government to safeguard the monuments.
“We believe this time the restoration will follow international standards,” Sardar UmarAlam, the head of Unesco’s officein Yangon, said.
The agency dispatched experts to Bagan yesterday and is working directly with government ministries, he said.
“It takes time to know how the structures are stabilized and how bad the actual damage is — if a roof collapses, how much it affects different walls and murals,” he said. – AFP