Manila, Philippines –
A strong earthquake triggered landslides and damaged buildings in the northern Philippines on Wednesday, killing at least five people and injuring dozens. In the capital, hospital patients were evacuated and terrified people ran outside.
The magnitude 7 quake was centered in a mountainous area of Abra province, said Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, who described the mid-morning tremor as a major earthquake.
“The ground shook like I was on a swing and the lights suddenly went out. We ran out of the office, I heard screaming and some of my colleagues were crying,” said Michael Brillantes, a security officer for the city of Abra. Lagangilang, near the epicenter.
“It was the most powerful earthquake I’ve ever felt and I thought the ground would open up,” Brillantes told The Associated Press by cell phone.
At least five people died, most in collapsed structures. A villager was killed when he was hit by falling cement slabs on his house in Abra, where dozens more were injured. In Benguet province, a worker was stabbed to death after a small building under construction collapsed in the strawberry-growing mountain town of La Trinidad.
Hundreds of houses and buildings had cracked walls, including some that collapsed in Abra, where President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office less than a month ago, planned to travel Thursday to meet with victims and local officials.
Marcos Jr. told a news conference that he was in his office at the Malacanang presidential palace complex by the river when chandeliers began to sway and make clangs. “It was very strong,” he said over the shaking of the ground.
In a chilling near-death experience, Filipino photojournalist Harley Palangchao and his companions were traveling downhill in two pickup trucks in the Mountain Province when they suddenly heard thunderclaps and saw a car-sized rock avalanche come crashing down. right in front of them from a tower. mountain.
Amid shouts from his companions in his truck of “back up, back up!” The 44-year-old father of three raised his camera in the front seat and snapped what he feared might be the last photos of his life. The truck in front of them was grazed by a rock, injuring one, but he and others in the second truck backed up quickly enough and escaped unharmed.
“I was thinking that there should be at least a record if something happens to us,” Palangchao told the AP. “It was a horrible experience.”
The Red Cross released an image of a three-story building leaning precariously onto a debris-strewn road in Abra. A video taken by a panicked witness showed parts of an old stone church tower breaking off and falling in a cloud of dust on top of a hill.
The patients, some in wheelchairs, and medical staff were evacuated from at least two hospitals in Manila, about 300 kilometers (200 miles) south of Lagangilang, but were later told to return after engineers found only a few minor cracks in the walls.
The strength of the earthquake was reduced from the initial magnitude of 7.3 after a more detailed analysis. The quake was triggered by movement on a local fault at a depth of 17 kilometers (10 miles), the institute said, adding that damage and more aftershocks were expected.
The Philippines sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of fault lines around the Pacific Ocean where most of the world’s earthquakes occur. It is also hit by about 20 typhoons and tropical storms each year, making it one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world.
A magnitude 7.7 earthquake killed nearly 2,000 people in the northern Philippines in 1990.
Associated Press writer Joeal Calupitan contributed to this report.