MANILA, Philippines (AP) – A powerful earthquake triggered landslides and damaged buildings in the northern Philippines on Wednesday, killing at least four people and injuring dozens. In the capital, hospital patients were evacuated and panicked people rushed into the fresh air.
Renato Solidum, head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, said the 7.0-magnitude quake was centered in a mountainous region of Abra province, describing the midday tremor as a major earthquake.
“The floor shook as if I was on a hammock and the lights suddenly went out. We rushed out of the office, I heard screaming and some of my companions were shedding tears,” said Michael Bryants, a safety officer at Abra City in Lagangelang, near the epicenter.
“It was the strongest earthquake I’ve ever felt, and I thought the ground was going to open,” Bryants told the Associated Press by mobile.
At least four people were killed, mostly in collapsed buildings, including a villager who was hit by falling cement slabs at his home in Abra, where at least 25 others were injured. In Benguet County, a worker was killed after a small building under construction in the strawberry-growing mountain town of La Trinidad collapsed.
Several homes and buildings were cracked in the walls, including some that collapsed in Abra, where President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office less than a month ago, planned to travel on Thursday to meet victims and local officials.
Marcos Jr. told a news conference he was in his office at the riverside Malkanang Presidential Palace complex when the chandeliers started swinging and rattling. “It was very strong,” he said of the shaking of the earth.
The Red Cross released a photo of a three-story building leaning precariously toward a road covered in debris in Abra. A video taken by a terrified witness showed parts of an old stone church tower peeling off and falling into a cloud of dust on top of a hill.
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 asked to return after engineers discovered some minor cracks in the walls.
The strength of the earthquake was reduced from the initial 7.3 degrees after further analysis. The institute said the quake was caused by movement in a local fault at a depth of 17 km, adding that it expected damage and more aftershocks.
The Philippines lies along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” the arc of faults around the Pacific Ocean where most of the world’s earthquakes occur. It is also hit by about 20 hurricanes and tropical storms each year, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.
An earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale killed nearly 2,000 people in the northern Philippines in 1990.
Associated Press reporters Joel Calopitan and Aaron Favela contributed to this report.
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