Quake toll rising but no deaths in Cebu

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012


CEBU CITY (Updated) -- Local officials expect an increase in the number of fatalities in Monday's earthquake that struck Negros and Cebu islands, with search and retrieval operations ongoing for dozens of people trapped under collapsed buildings and houses.

No major damage and no deaths were reported in Cebu province, but the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) recorded at least seven fatalities in neighboring province of Negros Oriental.

Reports from the Philippine Army showed 43 people confirmed dead, but this did not yet make it to the official updates of the NDRRMC as of this posting.

The quake also left 40 people missing, most of them living along the shore near the epicenter of the 6.9-magnitude tremor that struck five kilometers northwest of Tayasan, Negros Oriental.

Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) Director Renato Solidum said the quake Monday was set off by movement in an undersea fault.

Eleven other quakes followed the 6.9-magnitude tremor that occurred at 11:49 a.m. Monday; the latest of which occurred at 8:29 p.m. 17 kilometers northwest of Tayasan.

People-panic-earthquake-2012-02-07
CEBU. More than two hours after the 6.9-magnitude quake struck Cebu and Negros, false reports of seawater moving inland sent crowds running from downtown Cebu City to higher ground. (Alex Badayos/Sun.Star Cebu)


The NDRRMC said one of the fatalities was nine-year-old Bernadette Raidan, who was pinned down by a collapsed wall in Matuog Elementary School in Tayasan town.

Another fatality, 11-year-old Anafe Estrabella, died after she was hit by a collapsed wall in a chapel in Jimalalud. The other victims remain unidentified.

The NDRRMC also reported at least 12 people injured.

President Benigno Aquino III ordered Monday local officials and disaster agencies to validate incident reports, evaluate damage to infrastructure and property, and assist the victims.

Officials in Cebu also ordered buildings checked, especially in schools, to assess how much damage the quake caused.

“That’s the strongest we’ve had so far in Cebu,” said Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, whose regular press conference the earthquake interrupted.

“There’s more compelling reason now to work together… We can’t be too complacent when it comes to matters concerning the environment… we should accelerate efforts to fix drainage systems and find ways how we can relocate people in the coastal areas. We also have to remove structures under bridges,” he continued.


Initial reports in Cebu City mentioned landslides in Alegria, as well as cracked belfry towers in Badian, Malabuyoc and Boljoon.

In Negros Oriental, local officials said the 6.9-magnitude earthquake wiped out five cottages owned by Comendador Beach Resort in La Libertad town, while 20 houses were damaged.

The Phivolcs said, however, that it remains to be seen if the cottages were swallowed by advancing waters as a result of the earthquake.

Also in the same town, a three-storey Laturnas Building collapsed, but the Philippine National Police is still trying to verify if someone died or got injured due to the incident.

Landslides

In the mountain village of Planas, 9 miles (15 kilometers) from coastal Guihulngan town, also in Negros Oriental, as many as 30 houses were buried with at least 40 residents believed trapped, said Governor Roel Degamo.

"Their situation is bad because if you are covered by landslide for one hour, two hours, how can you breathe?" Mayor Ernesto Reyes said. "But we just hope for the best, that there are still survivors."

Army troops and police were deployed to help in the rescue.


The quake also triggered a landslide in the mountain village of Solongon in La Libertad town. An unknown number of people were trapped, said La Libertad police chief inspector Eric Arrol Besario.

"We're now getting shovels and chain saws to start a rescue because there were people trapped inside. Some of them were yelling for help earlier," Besario told The Associated Press by phone. Three key bridges in the town cracked and were no longer passable, he added.

Food and medicines were waiting in the provincial capital of Dumaguete, but the aid could not reach the villages in need because of damaged roads and bridges.

"There is a Canadian and an Indian doctor who are here for an earlier scheduled medical mission and it's good that they are helping us," said Reyes. "They have some medicines with them but that may not be enough."

Nine bridges were damaged in Negros Oriental, including four that were or not passable, said Governor Degamo. The worst damage was concentrated in the province's mountainous northern portion, he said.

State seismologists recorded over 150 aftershocks hours after the 6.9-magnitude quake hit.

Aside from the damages and fatalities, the quake Monday prompted local officials to suspend classes and government work in Negros Oriental, Iloilo City, and Cebu. Residents Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental, suffered a blackout due to tripped power lines.

Photos courtesy of Dennis Ortega, Mark John Buenconsejo, Khristianie Lauta Cornelio, Fred Baa, Lloyd Anthony Garcia and Iloilo-PIO

Tsunami

In Cebu City, panic enveloped the city due to tsunami scare brought by reports of rising seawater after the 6.9-magnitude earthquake. The streets in downtown Cebu City looked like a scene from some disaster movie, with thousands of panic-stricken people running to safety.

Students and office workers poured out of offices and schools, while vendors abandoned their stalls at the Carbon market to run toward higher grounds.

Some people chose to go up tall or even mid-rise buildings, while others fled toward Fuente Osmeña and the Capitol.

In their panic, some people left their vehicles on the road to join the crowd that filled the streets while others ran to their homes to grab their children and nothing else, only to hit the streets again.

The panic erupted after some people heard rumors that a tsunami hit the coastal barangays of Pasil, Ermita and Mambaling.

Sun.Star traced the reports on the rise of seawater in the coastal village of Ermita in Cebu City, but Alejandro Galledo of Barangay Ermita said seawaters rose after a fast-craft passed by the area.

Robinson Jorgio of Phivolcs-Central Visayas said over radio that a tsunami normally occurs three or seven minutes after a tremor, and not much later.

He said people should not panic during earthquakes so that they will continue to be rational.

Phivolcs issued a "level 2" tsunami alert, which advises the public to be "on alert for unusual waves" and for residents in the coastal areas of Negros and Cebu to "be watchful." Phivolcs, in live radio interviews, said there was no advice to evacuate.

The alert was cancelled at 2:30 p.m. after the threat of one-meter waves has dissipated.

"There is no more threat of unusual waves. There was no evacuation at alert level 2 and what was advised was for people to stay away from the shoreline and for people with houses near the coast to be watchful," Solidum told Sun.Star.

He said, however, that weaker quakes are expected to continue until next week.

Still, classes in most schools were suspended by 1 p.m. and Cebu City Hall sent home employees shortly after the first earthquake struck. Other government offices and private firms, including those in Iloilo City, did the same.

Following the lifting of tsunami alert, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) commandant Vice Admiral Edmund Tan directed his units to allow any ships and other water crafts to sail or to venture out to sea after the tsunami alert was lifted.

"However, PCG search and rescue units and deployable response groups in the respective units are still on full alert for possible deployment in case of another strong earthquake," Coast Guard public affairs chief Lieutenant Commander Algier Ricafrente said in a text message.

Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Enrique Ona also directed the agency's field health units from the affected provinces to quickly respond to the situation.

Ona advised the public to ensure safety by staying away from structures that have been damaged or compromised due to the magnitude of the quake and to seek immediate medical attention for injuries.

For its part, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said quick response teams have been alerted to assist local government units in assessing the impact of Monday's shaking.

"Rest assured that concerned DSWD regional offices have enough standby funds and supplies, ready for distribution to affected local government units," Social Welfare Secretary Corazon "Dinky" Soliman said.

The Philippines sits on the "Pacific Ring of Fire" where continental plates meet, causing frequent seismic and volcanic activity. About 20 earthquakes hit the country everyday but only a few are felt.

In Cebu, Monday’s quake was the strongest this year, based on Phivolcs’ earthquake bulletins.

A 5.9 magnitude quake was recorded near Eastern Samar on January 17, while another 5.9 temblor was recorded on February 4 near San Policarpio, also in Eastern Samar.

In Negros, the strongest to hit the island was the 8.2-magnitude quake in 1948, but it did not cause additional massive damage because the region was still reeling from the devastation of World War II, the Phivolcs said. (Virgil Lopez/AP/With Sun.Star Cebu/Sunnex)

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