Philippine officials on Sunday warned survivors of a powerful earthquake that left at least eight people dead in the country's south to ensure their homes and buildings are sturdy enough before venturing back amid continuing aftershocks.
A strong aftershock alarmed residents, some of whom screamed in fear, while waiting for President Rodrigo Duterte to arrive to console earthquake survivors gathered in a gymnasium in the hard-hit capital of Surigao del Norte province.
The magnitude 6.7 quake struck late Friday, killing at least eight people, injuring more than 200 and damaging the main provincial airport and about 1,000 houses in Surigao, officials said. Some residents said the shaking was so strong they could not stand up to rush out of their houses.
Officials appealed for volunteer engineers to help check the stability of damaged schools, hospitals, malls, hotels and other buildings, especially in the provincial capital of Surigao city, which has been placed under a state of calamity to ensure a rapid release of emergency funds and prevent food hoarding. Power was restored Sunday in some parts of the city.
"Our call is do not return hastily after the strong quake," said Romina Marasigan, spokeswoman of the government's National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. "We have to ensure that our residences are safe."
"The critical infrastructures — the schools, the hospitals and offices that provide services — should also be checked if they are still safe for use," she said. "We are again reiterating our appeal for help from civil and structural engineers to ensure the safety of the people."
Renato Solidum, who heads the Philippine Institute of Seismology and Volcanology, said at least 137 aftershocks had hit following the quake. "Aftershocks are normal after a strong earthquake. Typically, these may last for days, up to weeks," he said.
Among the structures damaged by the quake were 12 schools, six bridges and some shopping malls, many of which had visible cracks, shattered glass windows and damaged canopies. The quake may have busted tap water pipes, limiting supply in Surigao city, which lies about 700 kilometers (430 miles) southeast of Manila, and three outlying towns, officials said.
Following Friday's quake, communist guerrillas declared an indefinite cease-fire in quake-hit areas to foster rehabilitation work and help people recover faster from the calamity. "Rest assured we will not do any harm to the military as long as they will not come to our areas," Comrade Oto, a regional rebel spokesman, said in a statement.
Rescuers dug through rubble Saturday to find survivors after a powerful earthquake struck the southern Philippines, killing at least six people and sending thousands fleeing for safety.
Residents of the southern town of Surigao in Mindanao island spent the night huddled in fear as aftershocks rocked the city following the 6.5-magnitude quake which struck late Friday when many people were already in bed.
Provincial disaster management officer Ramon Gotinga said that most of those killed had died due to falling objects.
But he added that one elderly man was buried in his home when the upper floor collapsed, and despite rescue teams digging throughout the night, they were unable to recover him alive.
Another 80-year-old woman died of a heart attack, Gotinga said, adding that at least 126 people were injured, 15 of them in a serious condition.
The quake damaged many buildings, including in the two-storey Gaisano mall -- one of the city's largest structures -- and shattered windows, sending sharp shards and heavy rubble into the street.
One bridge collapsed and two others were damaged in the quake, which also cracked the city airport's runway, forcing flights to be diverted, the civil defence office added.
"I thought it was the end of the world. The cement on the roads was cracking open," resident Carlos Canseco told ABS-CBN television.
Thousands of terrified residents fled their homes with many running to higher ground, fearing that a tsunami would hit the coastal city of over 152,000 people.
Regional civil defence chief Rosauro Arnel Gonzales said several houses had collapsed and search and rescue teams had been dispatched to make sure no one was inside.
"There are reports of houses that were damaged and they (the rescue teams) have to go around these impacted areas to really ascertain whether there is a need to conduct a rescue," he told AFP.
The disaster also knocked out both power and water services in Surigao City and surrounding areas.
Many residents spent the night in parking lots and open fields to avoid falling objects or collapsing buildings.
Hospital staff temporarily brought bed-ridden patients outside until the aftershocks eased.
Local journalist Roel Catoto said when he visited a hospital emergency room after the quake, what he found was "mass hysteria."
"There were a lot of wounded patients coming in and all the patients who were (already) confined were rushing outside. They were afraid the hospital would collapse," he told AFP.
Gotinga said residents were still on edge on Saturday.
"They are all still traumatised. At the slightest shaking, they run out in the streets," he said.
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