At least five people were killed today when a strong earthquake shook the central Philippines, destroying buildings and triggering landslides which buried dozens of houses, trapping residents.
The 6.8-magnitude quake, in a narrow strait just off Negros Island, caused a landslide in Guihulngan, a city of about 180,000 people in Negros Oriental province. As many as 30 houses were buried and at least 29 people were missing, Mayor Ernesto Reyes said.
Mr Reyes said four people died there, including a student at a college and two others in an elementary school. Another person died in the collapse of a town market.
The quake, which hit at 11.49am local time (3.49am GMT), triggered another landslide in the mountain village of Solongon in La Libertad town, also in Negros Oriental. An unknown number of people were trapped, said La Libertad police chief inspector Eric Arrol Besario.
“We're now getting shovels and chainsaws to start a rescue because there were people trapped inside. Some of them were yelling for help earlier,” he told The Associated Press by phone.
Three key bridges in the town suffered cracks and were no longer passable, he added.
Philippine seismologists briefly issued a tsunami alert for the central islands.
Five bamboo and wooden cottages were washed out from a beach resort in La Libertad by huge waves, but there were no reports of injuries, said police Superintendent Ernesto Tagle.
Elsewhere along the coast, people rushed out of schools, shopping centres and offices.
The epicentre was closest to Tayasan, a coastal town of about 32,000 people flanked by mountains in Negros Oriental province. A child there died when a concrete fence of a house collapsed, said Benito Ramos, head of the Office of Civil Defence.
“So far one dead, but we could not yet account for the damage to buildings,” Tayasan police officer Alfred Vicente Silvosa told The AP by phone. He said there were still aftershocks “so we are outside, at the town plaza. We cannot inspect buildings yet because it's dangerous.”
“I felt the building shaking, so I rushed out of the building. Our computers, shelves, plates, the cupboards, water dispenser all fell,” he said.
A three-storey office building also collapsed in La Libertad, but the occupants managed to run out.
Negros Oriental police chief Edward Carranza said the quake damaged many houses in Guihulngan and he ordered his men to help displaced residents find shelter.
Officials in some areas suspended work and cancelled classes. Power and telecommunications were knocked out in several places.
Mr Carranza said police rushed out of his building when the quake struck. “All my personnel ran out fearing our building would collapse,” he said.
“Now it's shaking again,” he said as an aftershock hit. “My keychain is dancing.”
The US Geological Survey said the quake was centred 44 miles (72km) north of Dumaguete city on Negros and hit at a depth of 29 miles (46km). The area is about 400 miles (650km) south-east of the capital, Manila.
President Benigno Aquino III's spokesman said authorities did not force people to evacuate but implored those along the shore to be vigilant. The coast guard grounded all vessels while the tsunami alert was in effect.
A shopping centre in San Carlos city in neighbouring Negros Occidental province was damaged when its windows were shattered by the shaking, said civil defence chief Mr Ramos.
The quake was also felt in Cebu, where it lasted about 30 seconds.
The Philippines is located in the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common. A 7.7-magnitude quake killed nearly 2,000 people in Luzon in 1990.