The Philippines deployed 400 soldiers to help with rescue operations after an earthquake killed at least 43 people and triggered landslides that left dozens more missing.
A landslide set off by the 6.8-magnitude temblor killed 29 people in the central city of Barangay Planas, Col. Francisco Zosimo Patrimonio said in a mobile-phone message. Fourteen died in Guihulngan and nearby towns, and 40 people were missing in the town of La Libertad, Patrimonio said.
The Philippines has been battered by natural disasters in recent months, killing dozens of people and sparking criticism of President Benigno Aquino’s handling of the crises. The latest deaths could revive charges that the government hasn’t planned for such emergencies, Benito Lim, a political science professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, said by phone.
“This government is too reactive instead of anticipating disasters,” Lim said. “We are considered one of the most disaster-prone areas in the world. We have yet to see a contingency plan to address the problem of natural disasters.’
More than 700 aftershocks have been recorded as of this morning, said Renato Solidum, director of the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. The official death toll from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council was 15, with 29 people missing and 52 injured, according to a government statement.
Today’s deployment doubled the number of troops that were originally assigned to rescue operations after the quake struck the Negros and Cebu region yesterday. It was the worst disaster to hit the country since Tropical Storm Washi killed more than 1,200 people in December.
The dead included two children killed after walls collapsed, according to the council. Casualties may rise as more than 100 houses were buried by a landslide in La Libertad, Patrimonio said.
Aftershocks slowed rescue operations in the city of Guihulngan, where electricity and water supplies were knocked out, Mayor Ernesto Reyes told ABS-CBN News Channel by phone today.
Local governments need to improve disaster management, especially in landslide-prone areas, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo said today. ‘There should be more regular drills and more intensive assessment on landslide prone areas in case of earthquakes,” Robredo said in an emailed statement.
Aftershocks and false information after the quake threw the city of Cebu into a “state of panic,” Mayor Michael Rama said in a phone interview yesterday. “Information spread that seawater reached some parts of the city proper, so many people panicked,” he said.
Offices, schools and malls were shut in most parts of central Philippines hit by the temblor, while power lines were brought down. A 7.7-magnitude quake killed more than 1,500 people on the main island of Luzon in July 1990.
“We are in the process of evaluating the damage at the moment,” Aquino’s spokeswoman Abigail Valte said in a mobile phone message today, when asked if Aquino has a disaster response plan. “We are prepared to provide whatever assistance is necessary.”