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Powerful earthquake hits northern Philippines

By Mikhail Flores / AFP Published Jul 27, 2022 3:47 pm

A 7.0-magnitude earthquake killed at least three people in the northern Philippines Wednesday, toppling buildings, and shaking high-rise towers more than 300 kilometres (185 miles) away in the capital Manila.

The shallow but powerful quake struck the mountainous and lightly populated province of Abra on the main island of Luzon at 8:43 a.m., the US Geological Survey said.

Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage than deeper ones. This one left scores of people injured, triggered landslides, damaged churches, and knocked out power.

In Bangued, the provincial capital of Abra, which felt the full force of the quake, a 23-year-old woman was killed after a wall fell on her, police said. At least 62 people were injured in the province.

A 25-year-old construction worker in La Trinidad, the capital of the landlocked province Benguet, died when the three-storey building he was working on collapsed, police said. Seven other workers escaped unharmed.

Another person was killed when he fell off a construction site in the mountains of Kalinga province, where eight people were also injured, police said. 

As buildings shook and walls cracked in the municipality of Dolores in Abra, people ran outside, Police Major Edwin Sergio told AFP.

"The quake was very strong," Sergio said, adding windows of the local market were broken.

"Vegetables and fruits sold in the market were also disarranged after tables were toppled."

A video posted on Facebook and verified by AFP showed cracks in the asphalt road and ground in Bangued.

A number of the injured in Bangued were taken to hospital, police chief Major Nazareno Emia told AFP. 

"Some of the buildings here show cracks. Power was cut off and internet as well," he added.

Congressman Ching Bernos, who represents the lone district of Abra, said the quake "caused damages to many households and establishments", but did not elaborate.

University student Mira Zapata was in her house in San Juan municipality when she felt "really strong shaking".

"We started shouting and rushed outside," she said, as aftershocks continued.

"Our house is ok but houses down the hill were damaged." 

Ring of Fire

The Philippines is regularly rocked by quakes due to its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.

Wednesday's quake was the strongest recorded in the Philippines in years and was felt across swathes of Luzon island, the most populous in the archipelago.

It was followed by more than 200 aftershocks, the local seismological agency said. Several of the subsequent quakes measured from magnitude 4.7 to 4.9, according to USGS.

Residents and office workers in Manila were evacuated from high-rise buildings.  

"Some of our personnel were pruning branches so they had to climb down immediately after they felt the strong shaking," said Pangasinan provincial police chief Colonel Richmond Tadina. 

In Vigan City, in the province of Ilocos Sur, centuries-old structures built during the Spanish colonial period were damaged.

Verified video footage posted on Facebook showed the Bantay Bell Tower in the popular tourist destination partially crumbling. 

Two visitors suffered minor injuries from falling debris, an official said.

"We can't rule out the possibility of another strong earthquake," said Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, whose family stronghold is in the north, said he would delay visiting the region to avoid causing disruptions.

Military personnel have been deployed to Abra to help with rescue operations.

There were reports of landslides in some areas. National disaster agency spokesman Mark Timbal said road-clearing operations were underway. 

There were no reports of damage to dams in the region, he added.

In October 2013, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck Bohol Island in the central Philippines, killing over 200 people and triggering landslides.

Old churches in the birthplace of Catholicism in the Philippines were badly damaged. Nearly 400,000 were displaced and tens of thousands of houses were damaged. 

The powerful quake altered the island's landscape and a "ground rupture" pushed up a stretch of ground by about three meters, creating a wall of rock above the epicentre. 

In 1990, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in the northern Philippines created a ground rupture stretching over a hundred kilometres. 

Fatalities were estimated to reach over 1,200 and caused major damage to buildings in Manila. (AFP)