At least 5 killed, 60 injured as powerful quake strikes northern Philippines

Emergency crew searching through a collapsed building in La Trinidad on July 27, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
Motorists next to a damaged building following an earthquake in Bangued, Abra, Philippines, on July 27, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Villagers clearing boulders along a road following an earthquake in Tinok highway, Cordillera, the Philippines, on July 27, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
The aftermath of the earthquake in Vigan, Luzon. PHOTO: ASH PRESTO/TWITTER
A car is buried under debris from a ruined old house in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, on July 27, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - At least five people were killed and more than 60 injured after a magnitude 7 earthquake struck the northern provinces of the Philippines early on Wednesday (July 27).

The quake triggered dozens of landslides and caused massive damage to more than 170 structures, including historic, colonial-era churches

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,” 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.

Employees evacuated to open spaces outside the Philippine Senate following an earthquake felt in Pasay City, Metro Manila, on July 27, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

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.

Marcos strongholds were hardest hit

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.

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

A hospital in Abra was evacuated after it partially collapsed.

A villager recovering belongings next to a damaged building following an earthquake in Bangued, Abra, on July 27, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

“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.

The damaged Bantay Bell Tower in the aftermath of an earthquake in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, on July 27, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Dr Maria Minerva Calimag, one of the Philippines' top surgeons, was in Ilocos Sur and was being interviewed live on TV about vaping when the room she was in began shaking violently.

"There's an earthquake," she blurted, before her TV feed was cut off.  Less than a minute later, the journalist interviewing her announced that the tremor had reached his studio in Manila.

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Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, who won the Philippines' first Olympic gold last year (2021), said the earthquake jolted her from her sleep.

Diaz had just gotten married the night before to her former coach Julius Naranjo at a chapel at a military academy in the northern tourist city of Baguio, south of the epicentre.

"I thought it was my husband moving restlessly in bed.  But when the shaking didn't stop, I started praying," she said in an Instagram post.

Mr C.J, Garcia, a resident of Bangued, among the worst hit towns in Abra, said he thought a large vehicle was just passing by his house when the shaking began.

But then, he said, "(the shaking) didn't stop and got stronger.  The ground was shaking so violently that it felt like we were being tossed around".

Filipinos in Singapore, meanwhile, expressed concern when they heard news about the earthquake.

"I panicked, too... I was worried for my friends," said Ms Jeanette Cariso, 33, a domestic worker.

Ms Lace Nicole, 22, a second-year student, said her grandmother lives in Bataan province, north of the capital Manila but far from the epicentre.

"Even then, they still felt slight tremors, and their houses and furniture did shake, too," she said.

Relief coming

Images posted on Twitter by Representative Eric Go, whose province of Benguet was also hit hard, showed a building under construction collapsing on one side.  It was reported that one of those who died was working on there.

There were also images of cars crushed by huge chunks of walls that were peeled off buildings, and boulders and debris strewn across roads scarred with long, deep cracks.

Envoys from the United States, China, France Australia and the European Union offered prayers and support.

Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian said Beijing was ready to provide financial and material assistance to the Philippines.

Mr Marcos said he was looking at visiting Abra and other affected areas on Thursday (July 28).

A rescuer providing medical attention to a wounded villager following an earthquake in Bangued, Abra, on July 27, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

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 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.

  • Additional reporting by Elijah Wong and Chong Xin Wei
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