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State television reported that more than a dozen pagodas and stupas in five townships were damaged, and many of them had their so-called "umbrellas" atop the dome-shaped structures crash down.
The uppermost parts of the domes usually contain encased relics of the Buddha and small Buddha images, and sometimes jewels. Damage to them is taken as an especially bad omen.
Sein Win said police were guarding a damaged stupa in Mogok and its exposed relics.
Many people in Myanmar are superstitious, and it is likely that soothsayers will point out that the quake occurred on the 11th day of the 11th month.
State television also reported that the tremors shifted the Mingun Bell, which people in Myanmar claim is the world’s largest functioning bell, off its base. The nearly 12-foot-high bell, which weighs in at 200,000 pounds, was installed in 1810 and is a popular tourist attraction at a pagoda outside Mandalay.
A resident of Naypyitaw, which is 225 miles south of the quake’s epicenter, said several windowpanes of the parliament building had broken.
The epicenter is in a region frequently hit by small temblors that usually cause little damage. Myanmar suffered a quake of similar size in March last year near the northeastern border town of Tachileik. Last year’s 6.8 magnitude quake killed 74 people and injured 111.
Residents of Mandalay contacted by phone said they were fearful of more aftershocks because the city has modern high-rise buildings that could trap people, unlike the mostly small structures in the areas worst hit on Sunday.
"We are afraid that another earthquake might shake at night," said Thet Su, a journalist in Mandalay. "I told my parents to run out of the house if another earthquake shook."
The quake was felt in Bangkok, the capital of neighboring Thailand.
It comes just a week ahead of a scheduled visit to Myanmar by President Barack Obama. He will be the first U.S. president to visit the one-time pariah nation, which is emerging from decades of military rule.
The disaster is the second to strike Myanmar’s north in three days. On Friday, a tanker train derailed about 80 miles north of Shwebo, and at least 25 people were killed when overturned carriages burst into flames as they were trying to skim fuel from them.
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