The Philippines deployed 400 soldiers to help with rescue operations after an earthquake killed at least 48 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. Fourteen died in nearby areas, and 92 people are missing in total, 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 71 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.
Aquino planned to fly to one of the quake-hit areas tomorrow to inspect damage, his spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, said in an e-mail. The military sent five helicopters and two ships to help with relief operations, and the government made an appeal for food and clothing donations, Lacierda said.
‘‘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.”
The dead included two children killed after walls collapsed, according to the council. Casualties may rise as an estimated 72 people were buried by a landslide in La Libertad, Patrimonio said in a mobile-phone message.
Aftershocks slowed rescue operations in the city of Guihulngan, where electricity and water supplies were knocked out, Mayor Ernesto Reyes said by phone today. Workers delivering water and restoring power were also slowed because at least eight bridges were damaged, Patrimonio said.
“The whole mountain collapsed on the residents and they were swept into the river,” Reyes said. “Our problem here is that we don’t have electricity, we don’t have water and we don’t have food. We need medicines.”
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 e-mailed 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.