Eight people were killed and dozens injured following two earthquakes which rumbled underneath Batanes early Saturday, toppling historic buildings and sending terrified locals fleeing their homes.
The tremors hit the sparsely-populated province (population: some 18,000), part of the Cagayan Valley and north of the country’s main island of Luzon, tearing deep cracks in roads and forcing the evacuation of a hospital.
Authorities said some of the dead, including two babies under a year old—10-day-old newborn Fiona Valiente and 5-day-old Haisly Naquita—were crushed by the walls of their own homes.
Rescuers have retrieved the bodies of Tito Asa, 88; Teresita Gulaga, 76; Fausta Caan, 73; Jenward Hina, 31; Eva Valiente, 19; and Mary Rose Valiente, 13, according to the Batanes Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
As the quake hit Batanes, the national capital region of Metro Manila was about to gear up for its early Saturday morning earthquake drill which MMDA chairman Danilo Lim later described as successful in its objective in raising public awareness on the “Big One,” a phrase used to describe a huge future earthquake.
“I am impressed with the demonstration of preparedness and capabilities shown during the 5th Metro Manila Shake Drill, with the initiative of our personnel who got out of their houses to participate albeit the activity being held on a weekend,” he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte has mobilized all government agencies to respond and provide assistance to the victims of the earthquakes, the Palace said.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said food packs were sent to Itbayat town which was hardest hit by the 5.9-magnitude quake.
“There are some concerns about weather conditions, which is why everyone is working double time to make sure that we can immediately provide help to those who are affected by the quake. Time is of the essence here because of inclement weather,” Nograles said in a statement.
Itbayat, the country’s northernmost town, remains fairly accessible for relief operations despite the power shutdown, he said.
Eleven evacuation centers were set up for the residents of Itbayat, Nograles said.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Office of the Civil Defense was continuously coordinating with local government units, including the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Batanes as relief operations are in full swing.
“We ask affected constituents to remain calm as we urge them to remain vigilant and cooperative to government response and relief teams,” he said.
“We saw houses shaking. Some of the walls of the houses collapsed and fell on the victims,” Police sergeant Uzi Villa told AFP.
“Some people died because they were sleeping soundly since it was still early,” he added.
Many people were still asleep when the first tremor struck around 4:15 am, followed just under four hours later by a second, stronger jolt.
The biggest of the quakes—of magnitude 5.4 and 5.9—struck within hours of each other, according to the US Geological Survey.
At least three aftershocks followed, which prompted edgy locals to spend hours in town squares waiting for the string of quakes to end.
In related developments:
• House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez called on his fellow congressmen to help mobilize all resources needed for relief and rehabilitation efforts in the aftermath of the quakes.
“I was saddened to hear that lives were lost due to powerful quakes that rocked Batanes this morning. I am asking my colleagues in the House of Representatives to help mobilize all resources needed in the aftermath of this tragedy,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez said he had gotten in touch with Batanes Rep. Ciriaco Gato to inquire how he and other congressmen could help in the relief and rehabilitation operations in the province.
“We already made available a private plane for Rep. Gato so he can fly immediately to his province to assess the situation on the ground. We expect an initial report from him the soonest time possible so we can help mobilize all the resources needed,” the House leader said.
“I know the pain caused by such a tragedy. I also know the urgent need to mobilize resources at this very hour. Time is of the essence, and we need everybody’s help,” he added.
Romualdez said they made sure that Gato would arrive today in Batanes with a team of volunteer doctors and initial supply of medicine, ready-to-eat food, and drinking water.
“Rep. Gato will not fly-in solo. We made sure that he has a team of doctors and an initial supply of medicine, food and water. The private plane is at full load capacity,” he stressed.
• The Prelature of Batanes asked the faithful for prayers, with Bishop Danilo Ulep reporting they would continue to monitor the situation in the province, particularly in Itbayat, which was badly hit by the tremor.
“We are trying to find a way including my priest how to get there (Itbayat). Hopefully, the government and the military will be able to send some rescue mission in Itbayat kasi ang problema ang pagpunta doon right now (as the problem right now is how to get there),” he said in an interview over Church-run Radio Veritas.
Ulep added they would continue to gather information on the extent of the damage in the province, especially at the church in Itbayat.
He is also praying for God to grant the people of Batanes strength and stability.
Authorities said two people were reported missing, though they have not completed a search of the area because debris was blocking some roads.
Raul de Sagon, mayor of worst-hit Itbayat town, told AFP that eight people had been killed and around 100 others were hurt, including seven serious cases that had to be flown out.
Itbayat’s hospital was damaged and patients had to be wheeled to safety, while at least one high school and the area’s 19th-century church were heavily damaged.
Batanes is pounded every year by tropical cyclones and typhoons that blast through the Philippines and homes are built of stone to survive the annual onslaught.
“We always experience typhoons so houses here are made to withstand strong winds,” De Sagon said. “But we were not prepared for earthquakes such as this.”
The Philippines is part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from quake-prone Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin. With AFP, PNA
The country’s most recent deadly quake occurred in April when at least 11 people were killed and a supermarket collapsed in a 6.3-magnitude tremor that hit a region north of the capital Manila.
Meanwhile, President Duterte directed all concerned agencies to provide assistance to victims of Batanes earthquakes.
“The President has been briefed on the situation and he directed all agencies to respond and undertake measures to provide assistance to the victims of this force majeure and rehabilitate the damaged properties in the areas,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
Eight people have been confirmed dead while 60 others were injured from the two quakes.
The Office of the President is closely monitoring the effects of these earthquakes.
“Responsible instrumentalities of the national government, such as the Office of Civil Defense, are continuously coordinating with distressed local government units, including the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Batanes, as relief operations are going on and in full swing,” Panelo said.
“We ask affected constituents to remain calm as we urge them to remain vigilant and cooperative to government response and relief teams,” he added.
Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology Director Renato Solidum earlier said that as a precaution, people are staying in open areas, such as the plaza in Itbayat.
He also warned residents against aftershocks.
A magnitude-3.2 aftershock of the magnitude-5.4 quake was recorded 68 km. southwest of Itbayat at 5:16 a.m.
At 9:24 a.m., a magnitude-5.8 earthquake jolted Basco, Batanes, wherein Intensity IV was felt. This was an aftershock of the magnitude-5.9 quake, according to Phivolcs.
Another aftershock, a magnitude-3.6 earthquake, was recorded 33 km. northeast of Itbayat at 11:08 a.m. Intensity II was reported in Basco. With AFP and PNA
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