At least eight people have been killed and thousands of houses damaged in gales and hailstones that have lashed Myanmar, according to media reports. Six people were killed and two children were missing in the townships of Sintgaing and Kyaukse after flash flooding on 22 April, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

A total of five states were affected by the storms through 22 and 23 April, with witnesses saying that the bulk of property damage was caused by hailstones the size of coconuts.

"From what we know now there are eight people killed and 7,500 houses destroyed during these days," Phyu Lei Lei Tun, director of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, told the AFP news agency.

Military personnel joined police and fire fighters in conducting relief and rescue operations in affected areas, local media reported. "I felt afraid of the strong wind, the rain and the hailstones when I looked out the window," Yin Myo, a resident of Mandalay, told AFP. "Some hailstones were as large as golf balls, most about the size of ice cubes you put in drinks."

Heat wave

Tropical storms are not uncommon in Myanmar, while the Sagaing fault that runs through the west and centre of the country makes it prone to earthquakes.

A magnitude-6.9 quake struck the remote north of the country on 13 April, causing minor damage to buildings. Tremors were felt as far away as the eastern Indian state of Assam, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were on tour at the time.

Many areas of South East Asia, including Myanmar, are suffering from drought amid a particularly strong heat wave. Rice production has been cut back in Thailand and other countries nearby due to low water supply from the Mekong River.

The freak storms in Myanmar came after several days of the temperature topping 40C (104F) in several parts of the country, AFP reported.