Search on for Philippines quake survivors

2012-02-07 08:56
Residents rush to higher grounds following tsunami rumours due to a magnitude 6.9 earthquake which hit the island province of Cebu and other central Philippine provinces. (AP)

Residents rush to higher grounds following tsunami rumours due to a magnitude 6.9 earthquake which hit the island province of Cebu and other central Philippine provinces. (AP)

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Dumaguete - Rescuers in the Philippines dug through rubble with their bare hands and shovels on Tuesday after a powerful earthquake triggered landslides, collapsed homes and killed dozens of people.

The 6.7-magnitude quake hit a narrow strait between the heavily populated islands of Negros and Cebu around lunchtime on Monday, and a terrifying stream of aftershocks that authorities said could last for weeks added to the mayhem.

Local military chiefs said 43 people were confirmed killed, but officials warned dozens of others were believed to be injured or missing in mountainous areas that had been cut off from rescue workers.

"Heavy equipment we've requested from the provincial government has not arrived yet, because the roads and bridges are impassable," said Senior Inspector Alvin Futalan, police chief of Guihulngan town on Negros, which was heavily damaged.

"We are using our hands and shovels to search in the rubble," he said.

Thirty-nine people were reported killed in Guihulngan, a coastal city of 100 000 people flanked by mountains that was close to the quake's epicentre.

Police overwhelmed

The city's public market, court house and private homes in the area had collapsed or were damaged, while landslides buried some houses completely, according to Fatulan.

He said the city's overwhelmed 42-man police rescue squad had been joined by hundreds of army troops and volunteers in clearing debris as they raced against time to find people still believed missing.

"The army [troops] had to walk about 50km from the last stop reachable by vehicle to reach us," Fatulan said.

Guihulngan is about 90km to the north of Dumaguete, the capital of Negros Oriental province that covers the southeastern edge of Negros where the worst impacts of the quake were felt.

An AFP correspondent travelling to Guihulngan from Dumaguete witnessed families in makeshift tents standing in shock outside their homes and refusing to go back inside in fear of aftershocks.

State seismologists said more than 700 aftershocks battered Negros during the 20 hours following the initial quake, first measured by the US Geological Survey at 6.8.

Death toll expected to rise

In Manila, the national government's disaster office said its death toll was 15, with 29 missing and 52 injured, but acknowledged it had not yet been able to verify reports from local authorities as to the extent of the damage.

With rescuers still to reach remote hinterland communities, Negros Oriental governor Roel Degamo said he feared there could be more unreported casualties.

"Sadly, we expect the death toll could still rise," Degamo said.

Colonel Francisco Zosimo Patrimonio, commander of the Army's 302nd Brigade in Negros, said a landslide buried dozens of houses in another town near Guihulngan.

"Local officials there have a minimal estimate of 40 adults missing [with the] number of children missing undetermined," he said,

Telephone communications in some parts of Negros were also cut off, leaving information from remote regions unobtainable, according to Degamo, the governor.

Cebu, the Philippines' second biggest city with 2.3 million residents and a popular tourist destination, was 50km from the epicentre and shook violently during the initial tremor but no deaths were reported there.

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.

Read more on:    philippines  |  earthquakes

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