PORAC, Philippines: Philippine rescuers were scrambling on Tuesday (Apr 23) to reach dozens of people feared buried under a building near Manila that collapsed a day earlier in a powerful earthquake, as the death toll climbed to 15.
The 6.3 magnitude quake struck northwest of the capital on Monday, scientists from the US Geological Survey said, heavily damaging an airport and sending terrified locals fleeing swaying high-rises.
The worst of the damage was in the province of Pampanga, which was the site of all 11 fatalities, disaster officials said. Dozens of others were injured by falling rubble, including in Manila.
The toll could rise as crews fanned out across the region to assess damage in isolated hamlets that lost power and communications in one of the area's strongest tremors in years.
Scores of rescuers in the town of Porac were wielding cranes and jackhammers to peel back the pancaked concrete structure of a four-storey building where up to 30 people were unaccounted for.
"They (rescuers) still hear at least one person who is still alive," Pampanga Governor Lilia Pineda told journalists. "This person is buried under concrete slabs."
Porac mayor Condralito Dela Cruz said the earthquake was the most intense the town had ever experienced.
"We're not sure how many people are trapped still," he told television news channel ANC.
"We can still hear some voices, the voice of a woman," he said.
The quake also damaged several centuries-old churches which were crowded with worshippers in recent days as the majority-Catholic Philippines marked the Easter holiday.
Aurelia Daeng, 65, was in her family drug store in Porac when Monday's quake struck, breaking windows, leaving cracks in the floor and destroying one wall of her home.
"It was very strong. It was our first time experiencing something like that," she said.
"This one, it's terrifying."
Father Roland Moraleja, who is based in Porac, said the 18th century belfry of Saint Catherine of Alexandria church collapsed in the quake.
"It was the only part left from the old church," he told AFP. "The historical value is now gone, but we are hopeful that it will rise again."
High-rise buildings in the capital swayed after the tremor struck Monday evening, leaving some with large cracks in their walls.
Thousands of travellers were stranded after aviation authorities shut down the secondary Clark Airport, which is located on the site of the former US military installation that lies about an hour's drive north of the capital.
It was still closed on Tuesday as officials assessed the heavy damage to the terminal building and some cracking on the air traffic control tower.
The quake was centred on the town of Castillejos, about 100km northwest of Manila, local geologists said.
Dani Justo, a martial arts instructor, told AFP she was at her southern Manila home when the quake struck.
"The clothes hanging on our line were really swaying. My shih tzu (dog) dropped flat on the ground," she added.
The Philippines is part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from quake-prone Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.