One dead, dozens injured as strong quake hits central Philippines

Search and rescue efforts are still underway in the region as the quake struck while the archipelago battles coronavirus infections

CATAINGAN • At least one person was killed and 43 injured (as at press time) when a 6.6-magnitude earthquake shook the central Philippines yesterday, sending residents fleeing their homes and damaging buildings and roads.

The shallow quake struck south-east of Masbate Island in the Bicol region at 8:03am (0003 GMT), the US Geological Survey said.

“There are a lot of damaged houses,” said Staff Sergeant Antonio Clemente in Cataingan, a town of about 50,000 people on the impoverished island several kilometres west of the epicentre in the Samar Sea.

“It was really strong.”

Local radio station reporter Christopher Decamon said he saw emergency workers pull the body of a man from the rubble of a three-storey house on the outskirts of Cataingan. The man’s wife escaped unharmed.

The earthquake “was really strong. Our people were broadcasting at the time, but they just ran out of the building”, Decamon told AFP by telephone.

Police confirmed the man’s death.

Sixteen people were also injured in the town.

In nearby Palanas, at least 27 people were injured after being hit by falling objects or when their motorbikes crashed as the ground moved in the town, Chris Adique, a municipal disaster officer, told DZBB radio.

None were in a critical condition, he added.

Search and rescue efforts were still underway in the region.

The quake struck as the archipelago battles surging numbers of coronavirus infections, with more than 164,000 cases and restrictions on movement that vary across the country.

A lockdown affecting a quarter of the population, including the capital Manila, will be eased today.

“These natural disasters are a part of our lives and we always recover,” said Harry Roque, spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte.

“People should not worry about getting relief assistance. They will be provided.”

Palanas police chief Captain Alvin Guerina told AFP that several patients, including a pregnant woman about to go into labour, were evacuated from a hospital as a precaution in case of aftershocks. So far, at least 24 aftershocks have been recorded by the Philippine seismology office, with the strongest registering at 3.8 magnitude.

A video posted on Facebook and verified by AFP showed light damage to a food market in Cataingan. Overturned buckets and small fish were scattered on the ground and chunks of cement had fallen from a pillar.

People stood outside on the street.

Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon tweeted photos taken by his colleagues showing buildings in Cataingan with corrugated iron roofs fallen in.

Other photos taken in nearby Uson town show a sealed road with a large crack across it.

The quake was felt hundreds of kilometres away.

In the city of Iloilo about 400km southwest of Masbate in the neighbouring Visayas region, residents ran out onto the streets.

“It was strong, dizzying,” police Colonel Eric Dampal told AFP. “Almost everyone inside buildings rushed to the streets.”

The Philippines is situated on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from Japan through South-East Asia and across the Pacific basin. — AFP