, MANILA, Feb 6 – A 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of the central Philippines on Monday, killing at least 43 people and causing widespread panic, officials said.
The powerful quake hit in a narrow strait between the heavily populated island provinces of Negros and Cebu, causing buildings to collapse, cracking roads and bridges, and shutting down the power supply.
In Cebu city, a popular tourist destination and city of 2.3 million, hotel guests scrambled to higher floors as unfounded rumours that a huge tsunami was bearing down spread by text message.
At least 29 were killed by landslides while 10 others were crushed by collapsing buildings in the mountainous town of of Guihulngan in Negros, said regional military official Colonel Francisco Patrimonio.
There was also an undetermined number of wounded, he added.
“Some private homes collapsed along with our court house and parts of the public market. We got people out of the buildings but we could not evacuate the homes,” police chief Senior Inspector Alvin Futalan told AFP.
Four other people were killed in other parts of Negros which also suffered widespread power outages and cracked roads and bridges, hampering rescue efforts, Patrimonio told reporters.
“Looting is now rampant in Guihulngan which forced us to commit (more troops) with the Philippine national police,” the colonel added.
Civil defence chief Benito Ramos said the violent shaking of buildings in Cebu city — 50 kilometres (31 miles) from the epicentre — led to broken windows and cracks on some walls even if no high rises sustained major damage.
Local residents said there was panic in the country’s second-biggest city, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage there.
“There is news going around of tsunami waves, so we are doing our best to keep everybody calm,” Barbi Patino, a spokesman for the 17-story Parklane International Hotel in Cebu told AFP.
Pedro Baldomino, a student in Cebu, said he saw many office workers in downtown Cebu leaving their buildings after a public announcement on radio warned people to brace for expected aftershocks.
“I was having lunch when the ground shook. Water spilled from glasses and plates clanked. Some of the diners rushed outside, some of us stayed underneath the tables,” he said.
Philippine government seismologists earlier raised a precautionary tsunami alert over the quake, but lowered it two hours later.
The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said there was no danger of a widespread destructive tsunami.
Almost four hours after the quake struck, a strong 6.2-magnitude aftershock hit the central Philippines again, panicking rescuers once more.
The Philippines sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” — a belt around the Pacific Ocean where friction between shifting tectonic plates causes frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity.