A curtain lying in the debris of a three-storey house in Tarlay’s No 3 quarter flutters in the breeze as a crowd gathers around the destroyed building.
Rescue crews have just pulled a woman’s body from inside the house, and the residents can see where workers had dug through the rubble in an attempt to locate her.
“A woman was buried alive when this brick house collapsed in the earthquake. The other family members escaped, I heard she was the house owner,” one woman in the crowd tells me.
Three days earlier, on March 24, the house – more like a palace, really – was destroyed in the 6.8-magnitude earthquake that struck eastern Shan State.
Surrounding buildings, including the town’s monastery, were also destroyed, and nearly all buildings in the quarter were seriously damaged. Regular aftershocks have continued to jangle the nerves of residents.
“It was really like a nightmare for us. I can still hear in my mind that frightening, loud noise,” said No 3 quarter resident Daw Thawdar Myint, mimicking the sound of an explosion. “My heart beats faster whenever I think of what happened that night. We were watching television and I just remember that the lamps, television and other household objects fell over and broke after we heard that terrifying sound. Then my house totally collapsed. I could not stand up and my son took my hand and we ran out onto the road. All the other four members of my family also survived because our house had a thatched roof and was not made with bricks.”
She said the authorities in her quarter arranged a temporary shelter beside the road at the front of her compound. Well-wishers have provided enough food and water for her family to get by.
“But I haven’t been able to eat and sleep well since the disaster happened. We felt aftershocks every day at two or three hour intervals. They make us so afraid that we can’t sleep,” she said.
Like Daw Thawdar Myint, many residents in Tarlay and Mong Lin refuse to return to their homes, preferring to stay in temporary accommodation.
People pray for their safety by making sand stupas in the front of their homes.
“We offer nine cups of water, nine candles and nine white paper flags to the stupa and pray for all of our family to be safe,” said a young man from West Mong Lin village, whose family was preparing to rebuild their collapsed home. “My uncle also died when his house collapsed in the earthquake,” he added.
Residents in Tarlay and Tachileik told The Myanmar Times on March 27 that strong aftershocks were continuing to hit the area.
“We feel about three or four tremors each day. Although they are not as severe as the earthquake on March 24, we can’t sleep well. My wife and I worry about our young children,” said U Thar Gyi, who runs a transportation business in Tachileik.
The earthquake coincided with significantly below-average temperatures and rain, adding to the discomfort for affected households.
Rain fell on March 26 and 27, and the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology said the maximum day temperature in nearby Kengtung was 17 Celsius below average on March 28.
“We have no choice but to stay in our temporary shelter, despite the bad weather, because our house totally collapsed in the earthquake. I received one blanket from the authorities when they distributed relief goods. We haven’t been able to retrieve anything yet from my destroyed brick house. My friends also share some clothes with me,” said U Tun Shin from No 1 quarter in Tarlay.
He said he built his single-storey house with the money he saved over a 10-year period while working in the agriculture industry.
“I will not be able to rebuild another house like my old one,” the 75-year-old said. “But I feel quite lucky and happy that all of my family is safe.”