Strong quake kills at least 74 in central Philippines

Reuters

* State of calamity declared in Bohol and Cebu provinces

* Flight and ferry services suspended

* Centuries-old churches damaged

By Erik De Castro

CEBU CITY, Philippines, Oct 15 (Reuters) - A powerfulearthquake measuring 7.2 struck islands popular with tourists inthe Philippines on Tuesday, killing at least 74 people, some asthey prayed in a centuries-old church, and causing widespreaddamage to infrastructure, officials said.

Low-rise buildings collapsed on at least two islands andhistoric churches in the predominantly Catholic country crackedand crumbled during the quake, which sparked panic, cut powerand transport links and forced hospitals to evacuate patients.

At least 65 people died in collapsed structures andlandslides on the island of Bohol, 630 km (390 miles) south ofthe capital, according to a report from the region 7 office ofthe National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council(NDRRMC).

The report said eight others died in Cebu and another onSiquijor island. An earlier report had put the death toll in Cebu at nine.

More than 260 were wounded on Cebu and Bohol islands.

President Benigno Aquino said he would visitearthquake-damaged areas on Wednesday. "Many of the structuresthere are old," he told reporters after attending the briefing.

The death toll looks bound to rise. Dennis Agustin, Boholprovincial police director, said in a radio interview as many as77 people had died in 11 towns on the island, much of which wasleft without power and communications.

Four bridges and some government buildings collapsed inBohol. Roads cracked, with many declared impassable due tolandslides, prompting the authorities to declare a state ofcalamity in the province, along with Cebu.

Renato Solidum, head of the state seismology agency, saidthe magnitude 7.2 tremor had struck near Carmen town on Boholisland at 8:12 a.m. (0012 GMT).

"A magnitude 7 earthquake has energy equivalent to around 32Hiroshima atomic bombs. Compared to the 2010 Haiti earthquake --that had a magnitude of 7.0, this one had a magnitude of 7.2,slightly stronger," he told a news conference.

The volcanology agency said it was measured at a depth ofabout 56 km (35 miles).

GIRL DIES IN STAMPEDE

Hospitals moved patients to open spaces as aftershocksrocked Cebu, a city of about 870,000 people.

Rey Balido, NDRRMC spokesman, said at least eight people whohad been queuing for government aid payments in Cebu were hurtin a stampede sparked by the earthquake. A four-year-old girldied in the stampede, said Social Welfare Secretary CorazonSoliman.

Roman Catholic Archbishop Leonardo Medroso of Tagbilarancity in Bohol said two people were killed by falling debris asthey were praying in a church in the town of Loon. The church,Bohol's biggest, dates from 1753.

He said a church in Loboc town was also damaged and thatboth were designated historical treasures. The belfry of thechurch in Baclayon, one of the oldest in Bohol province, hadcrumbled and its facade was cracked.

"The quake was really strong. I am 75 years old already, Ihave undergone so many earthquakes, but this is the strongest Ihave experienced," he told Philippine television.

Television showed that the belfry of the Basilica Minore delSto. Nino de Cebu, built in the 1700s, had collapsed.

Transport Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya told Philippineradio that parts of Tagbilaran port in Bohol had collapsed.

Airline Cebu Pacific cancelled flights to Cebu andBohol due to the aftershocks and damage to airports. Ferryservices were also suspended.

Television showed the collapsed viewing deck of Bohol's mostfamous tourist attraction, the Chocolate Hills in Carmen town,which is at the epicentre of the quake.

There were no reports of any foreign tourists among thecasualties.

The volcanology agency said it had recorded nearly 300aftershocks as of 5 p.m. (0900 GMT).

Strong earthquakes are common in the central Philippines.

Tens of thousands of people were ordered from their homeswhen a tsunami warning was issued after an undersea quake in theregion in September 2012. One person was killed in that quake,which resulted in only minor damage and small waves.

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