Myanmar soldiers, police seal off ancient temples damaged by quake
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A photograper walks outside a collapsed pagoda after an earthquake in Bagan, Myanmar August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
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By Aye Win Myint
BAGAN, Myanmar (Reuters) - Truckloads of soldiers and squadrons of police sealed off some of the centuries-old Buddhist pagodas around Myanmar's ancient capital of Bagan on Thursday, a day after at least 187 of the brick temples were damaged in a powerful earthquake.
President Htin Kyaw flew to Bagan to meet local residents as authorities scrambled to assess the full extent of the damage from the 6.8 magnitude quake that shook buildings across the Southeast Asian country and beyond on Wednesday.
"The earth shook for about five minutes," said Soe Lwin, who was inside the Sulamani temple or "Crowning Jewel", one of Bagan's most visited sites, with about 15 other tourists when the quake struck.
"One Spanish girl got lightly injured, so we helped her. After that, we ran outside of the pagoda and saw some parts falling down," said Soe Lwin, who cut short his trip for fear of aftershocks hitting the area.
Although tremors from the quake were felt as far away as Thailand, Bangladesh and eastern India, initial assessments showed the wider damage was limited.
"The overall humanitarian impact has been relatively low despite the earthquake's magnitude," said Pierre Peron, spokesman for the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in a statement.
"No major needs have been identified and there has so far been no request for international assistance."
U.N. OCHA and the Red Cross confirmed three people had been killed - two children and one resident from two towns close to the epicenter.
The quake struck near the town of Chauk, on the Ayeyarwaddy River south of Bagan and about 175 km (110 miles) southwest of the country's second city Mandalay, at around 5 p.m. (1030 GMT) the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said.
"We continue to provide assistance to injured people, but we don't see this as a major disaster," said Amanda George from the International Red Cross in Myanmar.
The government's Relief and Resettlement Department was leading the response, and has found four schools damaged in northwest Myanmar, U.N. OCHA and local authorities said.
A hospital was damaged in Pakkoku, where one person was injured, and other buildings were affected, while two houses collapsed near Chauk, said U.N. OCHA.
In a short address to the media and local residents in Bagan, President Htin Kyaw said United Nations cultural body UNESCO, Japan and China have offered to support the restoration of the damaged temples.
"We have to record and repair the damage to the pagodas, but it will have to be done systematically. It will take time, but we will do our best," said Htin Kyaw.
Work would not be able to start until after the monsoon at the end of October, he said.
Bagan is the centerpiece of Myanmar's fast-growing tourism industry and has around 2,000-3,000 pagodas and temples. They are spread over a 42-sq km (16 sq mile) plain ringed by mist-covered mountains. It rivals Cambodia's Angkor Wat and Borobudur in Indonesia as Southeast Asia's premier archaeological site.
As police cordoned off temples and soldiers moved in to start clearing up, tourists took snaps of the damaged buildings.
But hotel and tour operators said the impact on the industry was likely to be small. They have not been contacted by tourists with cancellations, they said, and would remain operating as normal.
Myanmar is in a seismically active part of the world where the Indo-Australian Plate runs up against the Eurasian Plate. A magnitude 6.9 tremor hit northwestern Myanmar in April but caused no major loss of life.
More than half of Bagan's pagodas, including the Sulamani temple, were seriously damaged in a July 1975 earthquake that sent the landmark Buphaya Pagoda tumbling into the Ayeyarwaddy.
(Reporting by Aye Win Myint in Bagan and Shwe Yee Saw Myint in Yangon; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Alex Richardson)
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