Disaster relief organization ShelterBox is monitoring the border territories of India and Myanmar as an earthquake measuring 6.7 magnitude struck late last evening UK time. There is widespread structural damage, and reports of deaths and injuries.

The border areas of northeast India and Myamar, including Imphal the capital of Manipur state, were rocked by a huge earthquake in recent hours, measured by the US Geological Survey at 6.7 magnitude on the Richter scale.

The quake happened at 4.35 am local time. Police say the tremor cracked walls and that a newly-built six-storey building in Imphal collapsed. At present India’s news agencies say that at least six people have been killed in Manipur and more than thirty injured.

Most people were woken from their sleep by the quake, so there was widespread panic as thousands fled into the streets. A 23-year-old man suffered a fatal stroke after the quake, while two others died of heart attacks according to news agency AFP. A university student who jumped from a fourth-floor balcony to escape was among the critically wounded.

At an estimated depth of only 10 km, this quake is described by seismologists as very shallow. Up to 50% of this mountainous area has steep slopes, so there are fears of landslides. Transport access is poor, as the area is landlocked without nearby seaports and only one airport within 50km.

International disaster relief agency ShelterBox is standing by to offer aid and assistance if local agencies request it. ShelterBox played a key role in providing emergency shelter, equipment and medical treatment facilities in neighbouring Nepal last April when a 7.8 quake killed 9,000. It is still working in partnership there nine months later helping mountain communities to rebuild.

ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Sam Hewett says,

We are gathering information from our contacts and partner organizations in the area, and will offer help if a need for emergency shelter is identified. At this stage we are keeping lines of communication open at our Helston HQ, and will also monitor seismology given the possibility of aftershocks.

Electricity lines have been damaged and many areas are without power. It is not yet known whether the nearest hydro-electric dam at Khuga has been affected. Shaking was felt as far away as Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), 595 kilometres away. Casualties have not yet been reported on the Myanmar side of the border, which is only sparsely populated.

Deepak Shijagurumayum, a resident of Imphal, told the AFP news agency that his house was severely damaged by the quake. ‘Almost everyone was asleep when it struck and were thrown out of their beds. People were crying and praying in the streets and in open spaces. Hundreds remained outdoors for several hours fearing aftershocks.’

The region has a history of powerful earthquakes caused by the northward collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates, moving towards each other at a rate of 4-5cm per year. In 2005 the then fledgling ShelterBox helped in Pakistan-administered Kashmir when a 7.6 quake left more than 75,000 people dead.

Photo above is copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse)