A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck off the coast of Negros Oriental on Monday, killing 7 people and causing panic in cities where buildings shook.
The Philippine Institute for Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said the quake measured Magnitude 6.9 at a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometers, centered off the heavily populated central island province of Negros and Cebu. A total of 59 areas were affected by the quake including Dumaguete City and Tayasan, Negros Oriental, which felt the quake at Intensity 7.
Benito Ramos, chief of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), said 7 people were killed after the quake. The fatalities came from Negros Oriental.
“Two of the fatalities were children who were hit by falling walls,” he said in a press conference.
He said the violent shaking of buildings in Cebu City — roughly 50 kilometers from where the quake struck — led to broken windows and cracks on the walls, but no high rises were believed to have sustained major damage.
Philippine seismologists and local residents said there was panic in Cebu – the country’s second biggest city with 2.3 million people — but no immediate reports of casualties or major damage.
“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,” Pedro Baldomino, a student in Cebu, told AFP by telephone.
He said he saw many office workers in downtown Cebu leaving their buildings after a public announcement on radio told the public to brace for expected aftershocks.
But Ramos said there was no need to reinforce emergency crews in Negros and Cebu because it appeared the damage was not widespread. He said there are 3 battalions on standby in Negros Oriental.
“Windows were broken and one small mall in Negros had cracks on its walls, but it wasn’t that destructive,” Ramos said, adding that it was felt in varying intensities in both islands.
“We are expecting aftershocks, but we have already advised the public about these,” he said.
He clarified that the tsunami alert was already lifted at 2:30 p.m. Sea voyage in the affected areas were cancelled for the day, he said.
Phivolcs raised its tsunami warning to the second of a three-stop alert level for coastal areas in Negros, meaning the public is asked to stay away from beaches and “be watchful” for any signs of rising tides.
However, level two does not warrant any evacuation.
Ramos said the chances of a tsunami or a tidal wave were very slim because the quake’s epicenter was located on a narrow strait between two islands.
The Philippines sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” — a belt around the Pacific Ocean where friction between shifting tectonic plates causes frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity.
Bridges rendered impassable
Ramos said parts of the Visayas had no power after the quake knocked down power lines.
Several schools suspended classes in the cities of Bacolod and Kabankalan as a precautionary measure to possible aftershocks.
Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo said a total of 8 bridges sustained damage during the quake, with 3 rendered impassable in Jimalalud, La Libertad and Guihulngan City. He said the destruction of the bridges could affect economic activity in the province.
He said his office also received reports of a landslide in Barangay Planas in Guihulngan City, with at least 9 dead and 29 missing. He said he has deployed police to help in rescue efforts.
Iloilo City Mayor Jed Mabilog ordered all work and classes suspended in the city after the earthquake.
Mabilog said the quake was felt at Intensity 5 in the city, followed by several aftershocks.
“For now, nag freeze lahat ng operations ng Iloilo. Wala tayong offices, pinaka-cancel lahat ng offices for both public and private and that includes the schools. Commercial establishments and malls have been ordered closed temporarily to ensure the public’s safety,” he told ANC.
He said the power supply was also shut down to check if power lines are down and to avoid accidents.