CATAINGAN: A 6.6-magnitude earthquake shook the central Philippines on Tuesday (Aug 18), killing at least one person and damaging roads and buildings including a hospital and a sports complex being used as a novel coronavirus quarantine centre.
The shallow quake struck southeast of Masbate Island in the Bicol region at 8.03am (0003 GMT), the US Geological Survey said.
"There are a lot of damaged houses," said Staff Sergeant Antonio Clemente in Cataingan, a town of about 50,000 people on the impoverished island several kilometres west of the epicentre in the Samar Sea.
"It was really strong."It was the strongest earthquake in eight months in the Philippines, which lies on the "Ring of Fire," a seismically active belt of volcanoes circling the Pacific Ocean.
"My things at home fell down and my neighbours' walls cracked and some collapsed," Rodrigo Gonhuran, 30, told Reuters from the central town of Cataingan, which has a population of more than 50,000 people and is near the epicentre.
One man, a retired police colonel, was killed when his three-storey house collapsed, while four people suffered minor injuries, provincial administrator Rino Revalo told DZMM radio station.
Patients were moved out of a hospital into tents because of cracks in the building, Revalo said.
Engineers were checking a damaged sports complex to see if it was safe to accommodate people staying there in quarantine after moving back from the capital, Manila, he said.
People returning to their homes in the provinces from the capital have to spend time in quarantine.
The quake struck as the archipelago battles surging numbers of coronavirus infections, with more than 164,000 cases and restrictions on movement that vary across the country.
A lockdown affecting a quarter of the population, including the capital Manila, will be eased on Wednesday.
In Masbate's Palanas town, police chief Captain Alvin Guerina told AFP that several patients, including a pregnant woman about to go into labour, were evacuated from a hospital as a precaution in case of aftershocks.
So far at least 14 aftershocks have been recorded by the Philippine seismology office, with the strongest registering at a magnitude 3.5.
A video posted on Facebook and verified by AFP shows light damage to a food market in Cataingan.
Overturned buckets and small fish were scatted on the ground and chunks of cement had fallen from a pillar. People stood outside on the street.
Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon tweeted photos taken by his colleagues showing buildings in Cataingan with corrugated iron roofs fallen in.
Other photos taken in nearby Uson town show a sealed road with a large crack across it.
The quake was felt hundreds of kilometres away.
In the city of Iloilo about 400km southwest of Masbate in the neighbouring Visayas region, residents ran out onto the streets.
"It was strong, dizzying," police Colonel Eric Dampal told AFP.
"Almost everyone inside buildings rushed to the streets. Up to now, they're still outside."
The Philippines is situated on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.
A 6.8-magnitude quake struck the southern island of Mindanao in December, killing at least three people, injuring dozens and damaging buildings.
It hit as the island was still recovering from a string of deadly quakes in October.