Strongest Philippine Earthquake Since 1990 Causes Minimal Damage

The strongest earthquake in more than two decades to hit the Philippines caused minimal damage, with one death reported.

A magnitude-7.6 earthquake struck offshore 108 miles (174 kilometers) northeast of Surigao City, at the northern tip of Mindanao Island at 8:47 p.m. local time yesterday, triggering a tsunami warning that was lifted after two hours, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Evacuations were ordered in eastern, central and southern regions of the country as the tremor triggered landslides, killing a 44-year-old woman and wounding a child.

“Last night’s quake is the strongest to hit the country since the 1990 quake in Luzon,” Civil Defense Administrator Benito Ramos said in a telephone interview today. “This was stronger than what hit Negros” earlier this year.

A 6.8-magnitude quake killed 51 and left more than 60 people missing in the Negros and Cebu regions in February. That tremor damaged homes and bridges and shut offices, schools and malls in the central Philippines. A 7.7-magnitude quake killed more than 1,500 people on the main island of Luzon in July 1990.

Yesterday’s earthquake didn’t cause major damage as the epicenter was 112 kilometers (70 miles) from the nearest shore in Eastern Samar, Renato Solidum, the country’s chief volcanologist, said in a telephone interview today. The February temblor was closer to land,

A magnitude 7.9 quake in the Celebes Sea off Mindanao in 1976 triggered a tsunami that left an estimated 6,000 people dead or missing, Solidum said.

Bridges Damaged

In yesterday’s quake, two bridges in Eastern Samar were damaged while floors of the Abreeza Mall in Davao City cracked, the disaster coordination agency said in a 2 a.m. report. Several homes in Cagayan de Oro were damaged by flooding, while a house in Agusan del Sur caught fire after a gas lamp was toppled during the tremor.

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. Flooding in the capital and nearby provinces last month killed more than 100 people and caused at least 3 billion pesos ($73 million) of damage to infrastructure and crops.

Damage from yesterday’s quake was limited as “evacuation protocols were followed,” Aquino’s spokeswoman, Abigail Valte, told government radio today. Citizens must review earthquake plans and check if their homes and offices can withstand tremors, Valte said.

Food Packs

Aquino last night ordered officials to ensure the evacuation is “peaceful and orderly,” spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a mobile phone message yesterday. Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman has prepared food packs for deployment to affected areas, Lacierda said.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology recorded 163 aftershocks as of 8 a.m., the strongest at 6.4-magnitude.

“The quake lasted a long time and there was panic,” Surigao del Norte Governor Sol Matugas said yesterday.

Surges measuring as high as 19 centimeters (7.5 inches) were reported in Surigao City, Solidum, said yesterday. The first tsunami didn’t hit Samar province and Siargao Island as expected at around 9:32 p.m., Solidum said. Before 11 p.m., the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had scrapped the tsunami alert.

The quake cracked roads and bridges and cut power in some areas, Northern Samar province Governor Paul Daza said on DZMM radio last night.

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