Thursday, September 24

43 dead in Philippine quake, landslides

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RUN TO SAFETY: Residents run as they scamper to safety after a 6.8 earthquake that hit Cebu City. — AFP photo

MANILA: A powerful quake that struck the central Philippines yesterday rose to 43 as landslides struck a mountainous area, a regional military official said.

At least 29 were killed by landslides while 10 others were crushed by collapsing buildings in the mountainous town of of Guihulngan on Negros island, said Colonel Francisco Patrimonio.

Four other people were killed in other parts of Negros which also suffered widespread power outages and damaged roads and bridges, hampering rescue efforts, the colonel told reporters.

“Looting is now rampant in Guihulngan which forced us to commit (more troops) with the Philippine national police,” he added.

The 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of the central Philippines in a narrow strait between the heavily populated island provinces of Negros and Cebu.

Almost four hours after the quake struck, a 6.2-magnitude aftershock hit the central Philippines again, panicking rescuers once more.

In Cebu city, a popular tourist destination, hotel guests scrambled to higher floors as unfounded rumours of a huge tsunami heading to the metropolis of 2.3 million spread on mobile phone text messages.

Among the casualties were two elementary school children who were crushed to death by collapsed walls.

“They are all victims of collapsed walls and fences,” Civil Defence Chief Benito Ramos said of the seven killed.

A three-storey building in Negros also collapsed, while huge cracks appeared on highways and at least seven bridges, rendering them impassable, local authorities said.

Ramos said the violent shaking of buildings in Cebu city — 50 kilometres from the epicentre — led to broken windows and cracks on some walls, but no high rises were believed to have sustained major damage.

Local residents said there was panic in the country’s second-biggest city, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage there.

“There is news going around of tsunami waves, so we are doing our best to keep everybody calm,” Barbi Patino, a spokesman for the 17-story Parklane International Hotel in Cebu told AFP.

“We are completely safe inside the hotel, but we could see people on the streets now rushing away from the area.”

Pedro Baldomino, a student in Cebu, said he saw many office workers in downtown Cebu leaving their buildings after a public announcement on radio warned people to brace for expected aftershocks.

“I was having lunch when the ground shook. Water spilled from glasses and plates clanked. Some of the diners rushed outside, some of us stayed underneath the tables,” he said.

Philippine government seismologists earlier raised a precautionary tsunami alert over the quake, but lowered it two hours later.

“While the threat of immediate danger appears to have passed, we urge the people in affected areas to remain watchful and calm, and to cooperate with the authorities,” the presidential palace said in a statement.

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said there was no danger of a widespread destructive tsunami.

On Saturday, An earthquake measuring 6.0 in magnitude hit the eastern coast of the Philippines, but no tsunami warning was issued.

There had been no reports of casualties from that quake. – AFP