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6.9 quake death toll rises to 52

MANILA, Philippines (Feb 7, 2012 1:37 AM) - The death toll of a magnitude 6.9 earthquake that hit Negros Oriental at noon yesterday has risen to 52, disaster management officials said.

The tremor centered five kilometers northwest of Tayasan, Negros Oriental struck terror among those caught inside violently shaking buildings, caused landslides and cracks in highways, made several bridges impassable and left the integrity of some buildings in doubt. At least one multi-storey building is reported to have crumbled to the ground.

National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) executive director Benito Ramos said several of the fatalities were minors.

Col. Francisco Zosimo Patrimonio Jr., commander of the Army’s 302nd brigade, said a majority of the casualties died in a landslide that hit Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental.

“There are now 29 confirmed dead in the landslide in Sitio Moog, Barangay Planas, and another 10 dead in different parts of Guihul-ngan,” Patrimonio said in a text message to reporters.

Two persons died in Tayasan town while one each died in the municipalities of Bindoy and Jimalalud.

Authorities are still determining the number of injured.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) raised the tsunami alert in the Visayas but lifted it two hours later.

Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo told ABS-CBN News Channel that about 29 people have been reported missing in his province.

“We hope the number of casualties would not rise. We hope there would be no aftershocks,” Degamo said.

He said that as of press time the whole province is without electricity and classes had been suspended.

The governor said three municipalities – Guihulngan, Tayasan and La Libertad – were isolated, even as he called on the national government to assist in the rehabilitation of the province.

Guihulngan City Mayor Ernesto Reyes told The STAR they continue to experience aftershocks, causing great fear among his constituents and affecting communications and transportation.

He noted that they could not bring the injured individuals to Dumaguete Hospital in the absence of a helicopter since all bridges and roads have been damaged.

Reyes said the entire staff and members of the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (CDRRMC) are holding office outside the city hall for fear that a strong aftershock would ruin the building.

Guihulngan has a population of almost 100,000 residing in 33 barangays.

“It will take time for us to recover. We are hoping and praying for more help,” he added.

Phivolcs said the tremor occurred at 11:49 a.m. with its epicenter traced five kilometers northwest of Tayasan, Negros Oriental.

The quake was strongly felt at intensity 7 in Dumaguete City; intensity 6 in La Carlota City and La Castellana, Negros Occidental; and intensity 5 in Roxas City, Dao and Ivisan, Capiz and Iloilo City.

It was also felt at intensity 4 in San Jose de Buenavista and Pandan, Antique; Ayungon, Negros Orienta; Kalibo, Aklan; Sagay, Negros Occidental; and Dipolog City; intensity 3 in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte; Legaspi City, Albay; and Carmen, Cagayan de Oro; and intensity 2 in Cabid-an, Sorsogon.

“Windows were broken and one small mall in Negros had cracks on its walls, but it wasn’t that destructive,” Ramos said, adding that it was felt in varying intensities in both islands.

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no danger of a widespread destructive tsunami.

Phivolcs said damage and aftershocks were expected from the quake.

As of 1 p.m. yesterday, a total of 16 aftershocks were recorded, according to Phivolcs. One of these was recorded at 12:20 p.m. and was reportedly felt at intensity 4.

The agency issued the tsunami alert at 12:31 p.m. yesterday, alerting residents in affected coastal areas, particularly in eastern Negros and western Cebu, against unusual waves.

Ishmael Narag, Phivolcs seismology division officer-in-charge, said the raising of Tsunami Alert Level 2 was a precautionary measure to urge people to stay 20 meters away from the shoreline.

Narag said the alert level was only good for about two hours because it is “non-destructive” and the waves will not likely exceed one meter in height and there was no need for people to evacuate their homes.

Malacañang immediately called for public vigilance and assured the people that President Aquino is being updated of the situation.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the President ordered the NDRRMC to assess and collate the extent of damage and casualties and to provide the necessary interventions.

NDRRMC advisories and information have already been disseminated to local DRRMC, from the provincial down to the municipal levels, through fax, short messaging system and social media, Lacierda said.

“While the threat of immediate danger appears to have passed, we urge the people in affected areas to remain watchful and calm, and to cooperate with the authorities. We will be updating the public as more information about the situation comes in,” Lacierda said.

Meanwhile, Philippine Airlines said their flights to the affected areas were not cancelled.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) prevented vessels coming from Negros, Cebu, Dumaguete, and some parts of Northern Mindanao, Central Visayas and Western Visayas from sailing a few hours after the tremor but lifted the suspension three hours later.

PCG spokesperson Lieutenant Commander Algier Ricafrente said PCG commandant Vice Admiral Edmund Tan has issued a notice to mariners and directed their Coast Guard districts and stations to monitor developments and to suspend movement of vessels and other watercraft, and coordinate with coastal barangays and conduct information dissemination.

Tan cautioned all the vessels plying the area to take extra care and instructed their units to coordinate with the local government units and DRRMCs.

All PCG search and rescue units have also been placed on full alert in case of a forced evacuation.

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Nicanor Bartolome, on the other hand, ordered the immediate mobilization of all PNP resources and personnel in Central and Western Visayas to assist in disaster response and mitigation efforts.

Bartolome directed all police units to coordinate with the local government units in their activities on disaster response and mitigation efforts.

The PNP chief also alerted regional police offices to establish effective information and mass communication systems in coordination with LGUs and local NDRRMC agencies to sound off the tsunami warning alert in coastal and low-lying areas in these provinces.

Other PNP units in nearby regions were also placed on standby for possible augmentation to affected provinces. (From