A strong earthquake hit southern Philippines and killed at least six people and injured over 100 in Surigao City, which has declared a state of calamity, authorities said on Saturday.
Officials said many structures were damaged by the 6.7-magnitude tremor that struck late Friday. “As of this time, we have six fatalities and (at least) 125 injured,” said Sr. Supt. Anthony Maghari, the provincial police chief of Surigao del Norte.
Volcanologists said Intensity 7 was felt in Surigao and dozens of aftershocks had been recorded. Many more were likely to occur in the next days but would be less destructive.
No tsunami warnings were released by the authorities, but the extent of the damage was so huge that it cut off electricity in the city and left deep cracks on roads, including the airport’s runway. Airport operations were shut down.
The shallow epicenter of the earthquake was traced just 13 kilometers east of Surigao, explaining its powerful force.
Surigao Gov. Sol Matugas told radio station dzMM one person was buried alive in his home. Three others, including a four-year-old boy, were killed by falling debris, civil defense personnel said.
Regional civil defense chief Rosauro Arnel Gonzales said several houses had collapsed and search and rescue teams had been dispatched to make sure no one was inside.
“There are reports of houses that were damaged and they (the rescue teams) have to go around these impacted areas to really ascertain whether there is a need to conduct rescue,” he told AFP.
Malacañang said on Saturday the government was ready to help those affected by the quake.
In a statement, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) had pre-positioned 8,258 family food packs for residents in areas isolated by the quake.
“The DSWD Regional Warehouse has a stockpile of 14,637 family packs. The DSWD Field Office has a stockpile of 14,637 family packs and standby fund amounting to P2,895,921.91,” Andanar said.
‘End of the world’
The quake damaged many buildings, including the two-story Gaisano mall – one of the city’s largest structures – and shattered windows, sending sharp shards and heavy rubble into the street.
“I thought it was the end of the world. The cement on the roads was cracking open,” resident Carlos Canseco told ABS-CBN News.
Terrified residents fled to higher ground after the quake, fearing that a tsunami would hit the coastal city of over 152,000 people.
Others spent the night in parking lots and open fields. Hospital staff temporarily brought bed-ridden patients outside until the aftershocks eased.
Provincial disaster monitoring chief Ramon Gotinga said residents were still on edge.
“They are all still traumatized. At the slightest shaking, they run out in the streets,” he said.
The Philippines is located in the so-called “Ring of Fire,” an area of frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions encircling the basin of the Pacific Ocean.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said Intensity 6 was recorded in Malimono and San Francisco in Surigao del Norte and Pintuyan in Southern Leyte; Intensity 5 in Mainit and Placer, Surigao del Norte; Libjo and San Jose in Dinagat Islands; Mandaue City in Cebu; and San Ricardo, Limasawa and San Francisco in Southern Leyte.
Intensity 4 was felt in Hinunangan and San Juan in Southern Leyte; Abuyog and Mayorga, Leyte and in Butuan City and Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte. Intensity 3 was recorded in Mambajao, Camiguin, Ormoc City, Palo, Pastrana, Tolosa and Tacloban in Leyte; Catbalogan City in Samar; the cities of Bislig and Gingoog in Misamis Oriental; Dapa, Surigao del Norte; Iligan City; and Cagayan de Oro City.
Intensity 2 was felt in Cebu City; Talocogon, Agusan del Sur; Dumaguete City; Tagbilaran City in Bohol; Capoocan, Leyte; El Salvador in Misamis Oriental; and Oroquieta City and Plaridel in Misamis Occidental.
Airport shut down
Jim Sydiongco, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) director general, on Saturday issued a notice to airmen that the Surigao airport would be shut until repairs are completed.
Sydiongco said that the airport needs immediate repair after the earthquake that struck Surigao City at 10:04 p.m. partially damaged the concrete of the 1,700-meter runway 18/36, now unusable.
Sydiongco, quoting CAAP area manager Evangeline Daba, said the Surigao airport terminal suffered minimal damage apart from broken windows and cracked tiles.
PAL Express and Cebu Pacific Air operate daily flights to Surigao from Manila.
The nearest alternative for passengers to reach Surigao City is the Butuan airport, which is two-hour drive by land, Daba said.
Cebu Pacific announced that “flights to and from Surigao will be suspended on February 11, 2017 onwards.”
“Affected passengers may be accommodated via mounted Cebu-Butuan-Cebu flights or avail [themselves]of any of the following options, without penalties – rebook their flights for travel within 30 days from original departure date, reroute their flights to alternate stations (Cebu or Bacolod) within 30 days from original departure date, or opt for full refund or travel fund,” Cebu Pacific said in an advisory.
with DEMPSEY REYES, BENJIE L. VERGARA, CATHERINE VALENTE AND AFP