At least eight killed, scores injured as quakes hit Philippines

Earthquakes of magnitude 5.4 and 5.9 strike northernmost province within hours of each other.

    A resident observes damaged houses in Itbayat town, Batanes islands, northern Philippines [Agnes Salengua Nico via AP]
    A resident observes damaged houses in Itbayat town, Batanes islands, northern Philippines [Agnes Salengua Nico via AP]

    At least eight people have been killed and scores of others injured as a series of strong earthquakes struck islands in the northernmost province of the Philippines, toppling historic buildings and sending terrified locals fleeing their homes.

    The tremors in the early hours of Saturday hit Batanes province, a group of sparsely populated islets north of the nation's largest Luzon island.

    Raul de Sagon, mayor of the worst-hit Itbayat town, told AFP news agency that eight people had been killed and around 100 others were injured. Seven seriously injured people have since been airlifted out.

    Authorities said some of the dead, including two babies just a few months old, were crushed by the walls of their own homes.

    "We saw houses shaking. Some of the walls of the houses collapsed and fell on the victims," police sergeant Uzi Villa was quoted as saying by AFP. "Some people died because they were sleeping soundly since it was still early," he added.

    Damaged houses lie in Itbayat town, Batanes islands, northern Philippines following the earthquakes, Saturday, July 27, 2019. Two strong earthquakes hours apart struck a group of sparsely populated
    Damaged houses lie in Itbayat town following a series of earthquakes [Agnes Salengua Nico via AP]

    The first tremor, measured at a magnitude of 5.4, struck around 4:15am (20:15 GMT on Friday), followed just under four hours later by a 5.9 magnitude jolt.

    At least three aftershocks followed, which prompted locals to spend hours in town squares.

    The military has dispatched a plane from the capital, Manila, to deliver emergency personnel and relief goods from nearby northern provinces to Itbayat, which can only be accessed by boat.

    "We are waiting for the updates if it's safe to land because they are still experiencing aftershocks," said Ricardo Jalad, head of the national civil defence office.

    Damaged house lie in Itbayat town, Batanes islands, northern Philippines on Saturday, July 27, 2019. Two strong earthquakes hours apart struck a group of sparsely populated islands
    A damaged house in Itbayat town, northern Philippines [Agnes Salengua Nico via AP]

    Itbayat's hospital was damaged and patients had to be wheeled to safety, while at least one high school and the area's 19th-century church were heavily damaged.

    Residents said it was the first time they experienced strong earthquakes. School teacher Agnes Salengua-Nico said she and her husband woke up horrified with the ground shaking and a cabinet crashing to the floor.

    Their house withstood the shaking but others in the neighbourhood crumbled, pinning residents inside, she said.

    "We're out now in the farm with our three pigs because we're very, very scared of the aftershocks," she told The Associated Press news agency by phone.

    PHILIPPINES-QUAKE  This handout picture taken and received on July 27, 2019 courtesy of Dominic De Sagon Asa shows the damage to the Sta Maria de Mayan Church after a pair of strong earthquakes
    Sta Maria de Mayan Church sustained damage after earthquakes hit Itbayat on Batanes island [Dominic de Sagon/AFP]

    Most of Itbayat's population of nearly 3,000 people was evacuated to a public square to keep them out of their homes amid aftershocks, while the town's electricity was also cut off as a safety measure, said Roldan Esdicul, head of the provincial disaster relief agency.

    "It's safest for everyone to be outside of their houses," he told Manila radio station DZMM. "Most of those killed were sleeping and buried by their collapsed houses or hit by falling debris."

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    Batanes province is pounded every year by tropical cyclones and typhoons that blast through the Philippines and homes are typically built of stone to survive the annual onslaught.

    "We always experience typhoons so houses here are made to withstand strong winds," de Sagon, the mayor, said. "But we were not prepared for earthquakes such as this."

    The Philippines is part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from quake-prone Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.

    The country's most recent deadly quake occurred in April when at least 11 people were killed and a supermarket collapsed in a 6.3-magnitude tremor that hit a region north of the capital Manila.

    SOURCE: News agencies