As many as 12 people are feared dead after a strong earthquake hits northern Myanmar in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Pagoda in the village of Ma Lar, Myanmar (Reuters)

The earthquake, which had a magnitude of 6.8, also collapsed a bridge and a gold mine and damaged several old Buddhist pagodas (picture, left) when it hit at 7:42am local time.

The epicentre of the earthquake was near the town of Shwebo. The area is centre for the mining of gemstones and minerals. It is largely undeveloped and occupied by small townships. Due to the rural nature of the affected area, reports on casualties have been piecemeal.

Myanmar's second biggest city, Mandalay, was the closest major population centre to the quake, but at 72 miles south of the epicentre it reported no casualties or major damage.

Death toll

The biggest single death toll was reported by a local administrative officer in Sintku township - near the quake's epicentre - who told Associated Press that six people had died there and another 11 were injured. He said some of the dead were miners who were killed when a gold mine collapsed.

The Radana Thinga Bridge (Reuters)

According to news reports, several people died when the Radana Thinga bridge, under construction across the Irrawaddy River, collapsed east of Shwebo (pictured, right). One estimate said four people had died and 25 people had been injured in the collapse.

State television showed Myanmar's viuce president Sai Maul Hkam visiting the town of Thabeikyin, where the report said damage included 102 homes, 21 religious buildings, 48 government offices and four schools.

The gold-mining town is near the quake's epicentre and had casualties of three dead and 35 injured. The report brought total officially confirmed casualties to six killed and 64 injured.

The U.S. Geological Society reported a 5.8-magnitude aftershock later Sunday, but there were no initial reports of new damage or casualties.

The epicentre 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.