MANILA, Philippines — The death toll in the powerful 7.2- magnitude earthquake that hit Bohol and other parts of Visayas and Mindanao Tuesday morning rose to 32, authorities said.
Renato Solidum, head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, likened the energy released by the quake to “32 Hiroshima bombs.” The earthquake toppled buildings and historic churches and sending terrified residents into deadly stampedes.
At least 16 people died in Bohol and 15 in Cebu, officials said. Scores were injured.
“We ran out of the building, and outside, we hugged trees because the tremors were so strong,” said Vilma Yorong, a Bohol provincial government employee.
“When the shaking stopped, I ran to the street and there I saw several injured people. Some were saying their church has collapsed,” she told The Associated Press by phone.
As fear set in, Yorong and the others ran up a mountain, afraid a tsunami would follow the quake. “Minutes after the earthquake, people were pushing each other to go up the hill,” she said.
Panic ensued as people spilled out on the street after the quake struck at 8:12 a.m. It was centered about 33 kilometers (20 miles) below Carmen town on Bohol Island, where many buildings collapsed, roads cracked up and bridges fell. Extensive damage also hit densely populated Cebu City, across the narrow strait from Bohol, causing deaths when a fish port and a market roof fell.
The quake was recorded from two to five kilometers southeast of Carmen town at 8:12 a.m., the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology and the United States Geological Service reported.
Phivolcs said the earthquake had a depth of 33 kilometers.
The tremor lasted for a minute and triggered a blackout.
Several aftershocks were felt.
According to initial reports, some houses and buildings were damaged.
The quake set off a stampede in a Cebu gym where people lined up to receive government cash assistance, killing five and injuring eight others, said Neil Sanchez, provincial disaster management officer. In another city nearby, 18 people were injured in the scramble to get out of a shaking building where the assistance was being handed out.
The earthquake was felt in parts of Visayas and Mindanao.
“Compared to the 2010 Haiti earthquake that had a magnitude of 7.0, this one was slightly stronger,” Solidum said.
He noted that this was the strongest earthquake to hit the Philippines this year.
Solidum also said that the fault that moved was the East Bohol Fault, but clarified no other faults in the Philippines were affected from the earth’s movement.
Hardest hit were Tagbilaran City in Bohol and nearby Cebu province.
The last powerful quake to hit Bohol was in February 1990, with a magnitude of 6.8. It also damaged several churches in southern Bohol, as well as churches and bridges.
Photos from Cebu broadcast on TV stations showed a fallen concrete 2-story building, and reports said an 8-month-old baby and a second person were pulled out alive.
“It’s fortunate that many offices and schools are closed due to the holiday,” said Jade Ponce, the Cebu mayor’s assistant.
He said that patients were evacuated to basketball courts and other open spaces “but we’ll move them back as soon as the buildings are declared safe.”
Cebu province, about 570 kilometers (350 miles) south of Manila, has a population of more than 2.6 million people. Nearby Bohol has 1.2 million people and is popular among foreigners because of its beach and island resorts.
Vilma Yorong, a Bohol provincial government employee, said she was in a village hall in Maribojoc town when “the lights suddenly went out and we felt the earthquake.”
“We ran out of the building, and outside, we hugged trees because the tremors were so strong,” she told The Associated Press by phone. “When the shaking stopped, I ran to the street and there I saw several injured people. Some were saying their church has collapsed.”
She said that she and the others ran up a mountain fearing a tsunami would follow the quake. “Minutes after the earthquake, people were pushing each other to go up the hill,” she said.
Edgar Chatto, the Bohol governor, said that a church was reported damaged in the provincial capital of Tagbilaran and a part of the city hall collapsed, injuring one person.
A 17th-century stone church in Loboc town, southwest of Carmen, crumbled to pieces, with nearly half of it reduced to rubble. Other old churches dating from the Spanish colonial period, which are common in the central region, also reported damage, including the bell tower of the centuries-old Santo Nino Church in Cebu, which collapsed.
Tuesday is a national holiday for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, and that may have reduced casualties. The earthquake also was deep below the surface, unlike the 6.9-magnitude temblor last year in waters near Negros Island, also in the central Philippines, that killed nearly 100 people.
Regional military commander Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda said that he recalled soldiers from the holiday furlough to respond to the quake. He said it damaged the pier in Tagbilaran and caused some cracks at Cebu’s international airport but that navy ships and air force planes could use alternative ports to help out.
Passenger flights were put on hold until officials check runways and buildings for damage.
Earthquakes are common in the Philippines, which lies along the Pacific “Ring of Fire.”
The US Geological Survey said the quake struck underneath the island of Bohol, in a region popular with tourists.
People were killed as buildings and markets collapsed in Bohol and nearby Cebu province. Several buildings and churches were damaged by the quake.
The quake struck at 08:12 (00:12GMT) on a national holiday in the country.
Officials say that most of those killed were in Cebu, considered the second major city in the country.
At least five people died when part of a fishing port collapsed, reports the Associated Press (AP) news agency. Two more people died and others were injured when a roof at a market fell, AP adds.
Neil Sanchez, head of the Cebu disaster management office, told broadcaster ABS-CBN that they were trying to confirm reports that a school had collapsed.
“Communication lines are quite difficult here,” he said. “Even the disaster risk reduction management office has been damaged. We had to move elsewhere.”
The tremor triggered power outages in parts of Bohol, Cebu and neighbouring areas, reports cited the country’s disaster management agency as saying.
Edgardo Chatto, the governor of Bohol, said that a church and a city hall building were damaged.
At least four people have been reported killed in Bohol and one on neighbouring Siquijor island, reports say.