Philippine president visits quake site

2012-02-08 08:57

Manila - Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday visited a central province damaged by a 6.9-magnitude earthquake that triggered landslides, collapsed houses and killed at least 48 people.

Aquino assured residents of Negros Oriental province, 570km south of Manila, that the government was working to restore power and water services damaged in Monday's quake.

Rescuers were searching for more than 90 people reported missing after landslides in two villages in Guihulngan City and nearby La Libertad town.

Manolo Magalso, a 33-year-old farmer, was still in shock two days after the tremor caused the side of a mountain in the village of Solonggon in La Libertad to collapse and bury about 60 houses, including his home.

"I was ploughing my field when the ground shook very hard," he said. "I saw the mountain break and collapse on the houses. My wife and three children were inside our home then."

Magalso's family was among more than 40 believed missing and feared dead in the landslide.

Hope dashed

Hundreds of soldiers, policemen and volunteers were digging through debris and mud to get to the missing, but have so far not found any survivors.

In the village of Planas in Guihulngan City, where about 40 houses were buried in a separate landslide, a couple broke out in cries after the body of their daughter was found late on Tuesday.

The couple had been hoping she was still alive because they received mobile phone text messages from her from Monday evening to early Tuesday.

"She asked us to hurry and she said she could see some light," the mother said on television.

Guihulngan City Mayor Ernesto Reyes said Aquino gave him a cheque for $78 570 to help in providing relief goods to the victims.

"This will help sustain families for about 10 days," he said.

Strong aftershocks

Reyes said the president asked him to allow shops to re-open so residents could buy supplies amid reports of looting, but he stressed that engineers must first certify that the buildings are safe.

"I just want to make sure that no one will be in danger," he said. "We are still experiencing strong aftershocks so we have to be sure."

More than 1 000 aftershocks have been recorded by the Philippine Institute Volcanology and Seismology since Monday. The strongest measured magnitude 6.2.

Thousands of residents in affected areas were sleeping outside for fear that their houses would collapse in the aftershocks, while some hospitals also moved patients outdoors overnight.

The Philippines, located along the Pacific "Ring of Fire", suffered its worst earthquake in 1990 when a 7.7-magnitude tremor killed nearly 2 000 people on the northern island of Luzon.