A 7.2-magnitude earthquake killed at least 32 people across the central Philippines today, toppling buildings and historic churches and sending terrified residents into deadly stampedes.
Panic ensued as people spilled out on the street after the quake struck at 8.12am local time. It was centred about 20 miles (33km) below Carmen town on Bohol Island, where many buildings collapsed, roads cracked apart and bridges fell.
There was also extensive damage in densely populated Cebu city, across the narrow strait from Bohol, causing deaths when a fish port and a market roof collapsed.
The quake set off a stampede in a Cebu gym where people were queuing 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.
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, Ms 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.
But the quake was centred inland and did not cause a tsunami.
Offices and schools were closed for a national holiday – the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha – which may have saved lives. The earthquake also was deeper below the surface than the 6.9-magnitude one last year in waters near Negros Island, also in the central Philippines, that killed nearly 100 people.
Aledel Cuizon, who works for a Finnish company in Cebu, said the quake that caught her in her bedroom sounded like “a huge truck that was approaching and the rumbling sound grew louder as it got closer”.
She and her neighbours ran outside, where she saw “the electric concrete poles were swaying like coconut trees”. She said it lasted 15-20 seconds.
Cebu city’s hospitals quickly evacuated patients to the streets, basketball courts and parks.
Cebu province, about 350 miles (570km) south of the capital, Manila, has a population of more than 2.6 million people. Cebu is the second largest city after Manila. Nearby Bohol has 1.2 million people and is popular among foreigners because of its beach and island resorts and the Chocolate Hills.
Many roads and bridges were reported damaged, but historic churches dating from the Spanish colonial period suffered the most. Among them is the country’s oldest, the 16th-century Basilica of the Holy Child in Cebu, which lost its bell tower.
A 17th-century limestone church in Loboc town, south-west of Carmen, crumbled to pieces, with nearly half of it reduced to rubble.
Regional military commander Lieutenant General Roy Deveraturda said he recalled soldiers from their holidays to respond to the quake. He said it damaged the pier in Tagbilaran, Bohol’s provincial capital, and caused some cracks at Cebu’s international airport but navy ships and airforce planes were able to use alternative ports to help out.
Passenger flights resumed after officials checked runways and buildings for damage.