Last Thursday Evening, March 24th, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 hit Myanmar’s Eastern Border near Thailand, at the border of Tachileik and Mae Sai. Although the epicenter of the earthquake was in Eastern Shan State, Myanmar, it was felt all the way in Bangkok.
At around 9:30 pm, while I cooked dinner, the deadly earthquake hit. The epicenter was just a few kilometers away from my apartment and workplace. At first I really wasn’t sure what was going on. Having experienced dozens of earthquakes before in California I guess that “earthquake” should have been the first thing to come to mind. Surprisingly, from what I remember, I thought it could have been a bus, or something in that respect, running into my apartment building. While holding a knife and some vegetables, I finally realized what was going on, dropped the knife and attempted to find something to get under. I have to admit that I wasn’t too worried…until I realized that I was not in California anymore…who knew how the buildings were build here, and whether they were built to be earthquake safe. To be honest, at that point, I started to worry a bit. What is incredible to me was that I had time for that entire thought process to form, and still wait for what seemed like a minute before the shaking stopped.
Following the quake, after talking with a few of my neighbors and checking on a few friends to make sure their homes were still standing, it seemed that the damage around us would be minimal. I returned to cooking dinner, accepting that we’d be experiencing some aftershocks for a while. Little did I know that just a few kilometers away, across the border, over 74 people died in Myanmar from collapsed structures, over 100 were injured and hundreds more lost their homes.
It’s the sad reality of the world we live in isn’t it? As long as everyone is fine directly around us, and structures are still standing, it is easy for people to continue on living their lives without too much thought to it.
I arrived to the DEPDC/GMS Centre the next morning to find that our entire Border Youth Leadership Training Programme (BYLTP) group had slept outside in mosquito nets in fear of being under a roof while the quakes continued. We were then told that three of our Mekong Youth Network (MYN) members from Tachileik Shan State, Myanmar had lost their homes during the earthquake and its aftershocks. Many of their family members had also suffered injuries and were in need of medical care. DEPDC is going to financially support its MYN members to rebuild their homes and cover medical costs.
If anyone wants to join DEPDC in efforts to support the families of our MYN members while they rebuild their lives, you can follow this link and make donations through the PayPal account. http://www.depdc.org/eng/help/how_to_donate.html
While Thailand recovered from any damage rather quickly, there are still hundreds in Myanmar without basic necessities. What makes the situation much more difficult is, despite the fact that we are just across the border, the Myanmar government doesn’t let anyone take food, water, or even building material up to the villages that were worst effected. Many of our Burmese staff members have been making attempts to take over food and water, most of which have been unsuccessful. What we can only try to do now is provide the families with money and hope that they are able to find any necessary resources themselves. I’m sure anyone can imagine how frustrating it is to be so close to all this suffering, but to be unable to help in any tangible way.
So…the earthquakes continue. It’s been over a week now and we have not had one day without them. We’ve been reading from reports that they are actually not aftershocks anymore, but completely independent earthquakes, which is no comfort to anyone here.
In the meantime, I head to Tachileik, Myanmar this weekend to extend my Thai Visa, so I’ll do some investigation while I’m over there as long as I’m not stopped by Myanmar Officials, and try to see what else people can do to help. I’ll continue to give updates as I find out more information.