A 6.3-magnitude earthquake shook the remote mountain nation of Bhutan on Monday, killing at least 11 people, damaging an ancient monastery and forcing hundreds to flee, officials said. At least 15 people were also injured.
The afternoon earthquake was initially reported in Guwahati, the capital of India's northeastern Assam state, but it was centered in a little-populated eastern region of the tiny nation of Bhutan. Much of Bhutan, a Himalayan nation sandwiched between India and China, is sparsely populated, reachable only by walking paths and without electricity or telephones.
"We're trying to piece together information to assess the damage," Ugyen Tenzing, the country's director of disaster management said from Thimphu, Bhutan's capital.
He said at least seven people were killed when their houses collapsed in the eastern districts of Munggar and Trashigang, and rescuers were searching for survivors under the debris of other buildings. Most buildings in that region are small farmhouses made by hand from mud and stone.
Four Indian highway workers were also killed in Bhutan's Samdrup Jhongkar district, near the border with India, when the road they were working on collapsed, Tenzing said, adding that at least 15 people had been injured across the earthquake zone. In the Trashigang district, more than 200 Buddhist monks and 100 local officials were forced to flee an ancient monastery when it was left damaged by the quake. For centuries, much of Bhutan was governed from fortified monasteries, and today many of those buildings are also used as government offices.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported the quake's magnitude as 6.3 and said it was centered about 80 miles (125 kilometers) north of Gauhati and 115 miles (180 kilometers) east of Thimphu at a depth of 4.5 miles (7.2 kilometers).
"I dragged my family out. ... We ran down the staircase from our third floor apartment," said Sadeq Hazarika, an Assam state official who lives in Gauhati. "We saw our building developing a big crack. This was the biggest tremor I felt in many years." The region has been hit by major earthquakes in the past, including in 1950 and 1897. Assam has been shaken by a series of small quakes in recent weeks. The quake briefly rocked Bhutan's capital.
"We felt a strong shock for a moment, one second. People panicked and rushed out of their homes and businesses," said Tashi Dhendup, who runs a travel agency in Thimphu. He was not aware of any damage to buildings in that city.
The quake was also felt in Bangladesh and Lhasa, the Tibetan capital in southwest China, but there were no signs of damage in either place, officials said.