Strong quake hits Thai-Lao border

This aerial photo shows the Mekong River in Pak Chom district in the northeastern Thai province of Loei with Lao's side seen at left. (AFP Photo)

A shallow 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit northwestern Lao near the Thai border early Thursday, the United States (US) Geological Survey reported, alarming locals who felt buildings shake as far away as Bangkok.

The quake hit at 6:50am (2350 GMT Wednesday), roughly three hours after a 5.7-magnitude earthquake in the same region triggered an immediate suspension to Lao's largest-capacity power plant located near its epicentre. 

Tremors could be felt more than 700 kilometres (435 miles) away in the Thai capital, where Pope Francis is currently on a four-day visit. 

"The shaking... was the main shock from a quake in Lao at 6:50 am and was felt in northern and northeastern Thailand and Bangkok and suburbs," said Sophon Chaila, an official at the Thai Meteorological Department.

The department said the quake affected nine provinces in Thailand and there were four lesser aftershocks. 

It also became a top trending topic on Twitter in Thailand, as locals shared videos of swaying overhead lights and rattling window blinds in office buildings. 

Residents in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi also felt buildings sway. 

"The ceiling lights were shaking quite strongly. I felt dizzy and scared," said Hanoi resident Tran Hoa Phuong, who felt the earthquake in her 27-storey apartment building. 

After the first quake, the 1,878-megawatt Hongsa Power Plant - Lao's largest-capacity thermal energy generator - immediately suspended operations according to a statement from the Thai-owned company. 

No "fundamental" damages or injuries have been found so far, "merely damages to the external texture of the buildings", it said, adding that Hongsa is expected to take 24 hours to complete its inspection. 

Photos shared by Thai news showed portions of the power plant's walls had collapsed, and debris littered its premises. 

Nearby Xayaburi dam project, one of Lao's largest hydropower dams, has seen "no impact" so far, and is continuing to generate electricity "as normal", said a statement from CK Power.

Information is slow to trickle out of the closed communist state, and there were similarly no official reports of injuries after the twin quakes hit early Thursday.

Impoverished Lao has ploughed ahead with ambitious dam-building projects that critics say lack transparency and stringent safety measures.

The cost was laid bare last year when a massive hydropower project collapsed in southern Lao, killing dozens and leaving thousands homeless.

Pope Francis arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday and has a busy agenda Thursday meeting officials and the Thai king before he leads a mass in the evening. 

There was no word from his team on whether he felt the quake. 

Powerful earthquakes occasionally strike hard in Southeast Asia.

In 2016 a 6.8-magnitude quake struck Myanmar, killing at least three people and damaging temples in the ancient temple town of Bagan. - AFP