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At least 4 killed, 60 injured as powerful quake strikes northern Philippines

MANILA – A magnitude 7 earthquake struck the Philippines’ northern provinces early on Wednesday (July 27) morning, triggering dozens of landslides and causing massive damage to more than 170 structures, including historic, colonial-era churches.

At least four people were killed and over 60 injured.

Wednesday’s tremor brought back memories of an earthquake in 1990 that left more than 1,600 people dead, as it had caused a state-run school and a hotel to collapse.

Initial reports suggested the casualty count this time may not be as high, but property damage may be just as massive as in 1990.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said the earthquake happened at 8.43am, with the epicentre tracked at about 11km south-east of Dolores town in the mountainous and lightly populated province of Abra.

“Because of the magnitude of the earthquake, we consider it a major event. We (are expecting) significant effects,” the institute’s director Renato Solidum told reporters.

He said the earthquake was measured at a depth of 17km. 

“It’s not so deep. It’s shallow,” he said.

Because it is an inland, shallow earthquake, its effects were felt in the capital Manila, 300km away.

It caused high-rise towers across Metro Manila – an urban sprawl of 16 cities – to shake.  Office and government buildings were evacuated.  Railway services were shut and schools cancelled classes.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said in a news briefing that he was at a meeting in his office when the quake struck.

“I was in my office when I began hearing clinking sounds from the chandelier.  So we knew it was an earthquake,” he said.

But the most severely impacted areas were Abra and most of the northern parts of the main Philippine island of Luzon, including Mr Marcos’ home province of Ilocos Norte.

Interior Minister Benjamin Abalos told reporters that the earthquake caused damage in 15 provinces, 15 cities and 280 towns.

Most of these areas are currently unreachable by land. Hundreds of roads have been shut because they have been damaged and the threat of landslides. At least three bridges were unpassable.

There were at least 58 landslides reported in Abra province alone, Mr Abalos said.

A hospital in Abra was evacuated after it partially collapsed. 

“I thought my house would fall,” Representative Eric Singson told radio station DZMM.

Senator Imee Marcos, the President’s sister, said several churches in the city of Vigan in Ilocos Sur province, a Unesco World Heritage site, were damaged.

A centuries-old bell tower in the city was reported to have crumbled.

Wednesday’s quake was the strongest recorded in the Philippines in years.

The Philippines is located along the seismically active Pacific “Ring of Fire”, a band of volcanoes and fault lines that arcs round the edge of the Pacific Ocean. 

In October 2013, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck Bohol province in central Philippines, killing more than 200 people.  Nearly 400,000 people were displaced and tens of thousands of houses were damaged.

The powerful quake altered the island’s landscape and a “ground rupture” pushed up a stretch of ground by up to 3m, creating a wall of rock above the epicentre.

The magnitude 7.8 earthquake in 1990 created a ground rupture stretching over a hundred kilometres.

Most of those killed were in the tourist city of Baguio, where a hotel collapsed.  This time, the city was spared.

“All is well here in Baguio… No reported serious injuries, damage to infrastructure… We’re very fortunate that this wasn’t like in 1990,” the city’s mayor Benjamin Magalong told the ABS-CBN radio network.

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