One dead, 48 injured as magnitude 6.6 quake rocks Masbate town

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A collapsed structure in Cataingan, Masbate

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 18) — One person died while 48 persons were injured in a magnitude 6.6 earthquake that hit Cataingan town in Masbate on Tuesday morning, leaving heavy damage to homes and other structures.

Cataingan Mayor Felipe Felipe Cabataña confirmed the latest tally of casualties and injuries in an interview with CNN Philippines on Tuesday night.

Bicol police reported that Gilbert Sauro, a retired policeman, died after the strong quake collapsed portions of his home in Sitio Alimango in Barangay Concepcion. Another resident from the Poblacion area was injured.

​Congressman Wilton Kho of Masbate's third district said he felt intense shaking in his Cataingan home this morning, which toppled TV sets and wall-mounted paintings.

He led a damage assessment around the area after what felt like a 20-second tremor. This included the retrieval of Sauro's body from beneath the rubble, which took nearly two hours. Kho added that the rest of Sauro's family were able to flee to safe ground, and no other deaths have been reported so far.

Strong tremors felt

Shaking was felt in parts of Luzon and the Visayas. Aftershocks and damage are expected following the quake that struck at 8:03 a.m., the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said in its bulletin. The earthquake's magnitude was initially reported to be 6.5 but was revised upward.

Intensity 7 shaking, described by Phivolcs as “destructive,” was felt in Cataingan. The epicenter of the quake caused by the movement of tectonic plates was seven kilometers southeast of Cataingan, the institute said.

"Ang Intensity 7, kapag ito ay naramdaman niyo, maraming tao ang mahihirapang tumayo... lalo kung nasa upper floor sila. Ang mga mabigat na bagay ay pwedeng tumumba tulad ng mga kabinet. 'Yung mga lumang bahay o poorly-built structure ay pwedeng ma-damage," Phivolcs director and Undersecretary Renato Solidum told CNN Philippines' Balitaan, noting that landslides in high areas are also possible.

[Translation: When you experience an Intensity 7 quake, a lot of people will find it hard to stand up... especially those in higher floors. Heavy objects like cabinets could fall over. Old houses or poorly-built structures can also be damaged.]

Intensity 5 tremors, characterized as “strong” were reported in Masbate City in Masbate and Almagro and Tagapul-an in Samar.

Intensity 4 shaking was experienced in the following areas:

-Palanas and San Jacinto in Masbate

-Sorsogon City, Sorsogon

-Legazpi City, Albay

-San Andres, Quezon

-Mapanas, and Palapag in Northern Samar

-Barugo, Dagami, Dulag, Julita, La Paz, Palo, and Tanauan in Leyte

-Sagay City, Negros Occidental

The shaking was also picked up by Phivolcs instruments in Palo in Leyte, Roxas City in Capiz, and in Naval, Biliran.

Meanwhile, Intensity 3 or “weak” shaking was felt in the cities of Baybay and Ormoc; and in Isabel, Javier, and Kananga, all in Leyte. The shaking was also felt in Mulanay, Quezon and in Iloilo City, and was recorded in Bago City in Negros Occidental, Malinao in Aklan, Pandan in Antique, and Jamindan in Capiz.

The earthquake was “slightly felt” in Guinayangan and Lopez in Quezon; President Roxas in Capiz; Patnongon, San Jose de Buenavista, and Tibiao in Antique, Phivolcs said.​ Records also showed instrumental Intensity 2 strength in Gumaca, Quezon; Sipalay City, Negros Occidental; Valderrama, Antique; Sipocot, Camarines Sur; Talibon, Bohol; and in San Francisco, Cebu.

Lezo in Aklan and Dumaguete in Negros Oriental experienced “scarcely susceptible” quake, while instruments also recorded some movement in Malay, Aklan and in Gingoog City in Misamis Oriental.

The northern portion of Cebu Province was unscathed following the Masbate earthquake, although provincial disaster management chief Neil Sanchez said some offices in Northern Cebu and in the Cebu Capitol were evacuated as a standard procedure.

The northernmost town of Daanbantayan is directly facing Masbate. However, the shaking was felt in Cebu City especially in high-rise buildings there.

Damage recorded

The tremor collapsed homes, offices and caused cracks on the road as shown in these photos. ​At a public market in Cataingan, fish and other items were strewn on the ground.

The first floor of a municipal building also caved in, with Solidum explaining that its base was likely incapable of carrying the entire weight of the structure.

"Ang kahandaan sa lindol ay nakasalalay sa tibay ng bahay. Kung ang ating bahay ay mabubuwag o babagsak, kailangan pong makaalis kaagad kasi delikado po talaga [Preparedness for earthquakes largely depends on the durability of house. If your home is prone to collapsing, people should be able to evacuate immediately because it's very dangerous]," he said.

Solidum added that the safest spot for cover when inside the home is at its corners.

May mga damage po … tapos because of the effects of the earthquake, may mga injuries po [in Cataingan],” Isaias Bigol, Jr. of Masbate City's Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office told CNN Philippines’ The Source, citing information from the Masbate province’s DRRMO.

[Translation: There are damage… and there are also injuries.]

Bigol added that he has yet to verify the extent of the damage but they will meet with local government officials within the day to discuss how to help their colleagues in Cataingan. Communication lines are likely down in that area.

Cabataña estimated that from 60-percent to 70-percent of the town’s infrastructures were damaged, while from 5,000 to 6,000 people were affected in the town proper by the earthquake.

He added that people, including locally stranded individuals, are currently staying in the open as evacuation centers were also damaged.

“Wala na kaming pondo [para sa temporary shelters], dahil halos lahat ng pondo sa aming calamity fund, ay naka-allocate na sa COVID,” the mayor told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: We don’t have enough funds, because almost the whole amount in our calamity fund was already allocated for COVID response.]

“Humihingi kami ng tulong sa national government para maagapan 'yung aming kahirapan ngayon,” he added.

[Translation: We are asking the national government for help to ease the suffering we are facing now.]

Meanwhile, rapid damage and needs assessment is being conducted in Masbate City, around 65 kilometers away from Cataingan. Bigol said there is no “significant damage” recorded at the city proper so far.

Houses made of light materials sustained damage in Palanas, according to an initial report from the Office of Civil Defense.

Coordination with other OCD teams in different areas where the quake was felt is ongoing, the office added.

As of 4 a.m. on Wednesday, Phivolcs recorded 112 aftershocks. There is no tsunami threat, according to Phivolcs. The last time this part of the Philippine fault system moved was in February 2003, Solidum said, which was at magnitude 6.2.

Evacuees should stay in separate tents to maintain social distancing and prevent COVID-19 transmissions, Solidum reminded, saying only family members should stay together to limit infections.

Cebu-based journalist Dale Israel contributed to this report.