MANILA, Philippines: Two earthquakes on Saturday shook the Philippines’ northernmost municipality of Itbayat in Batanes province, killing at least eight people, including an infant, and injuring 60.
Itbayat, a remote coastal municipality barely touched by modernization and with limited electricity supply, has a population of nearly 3,000 and is 156 km from the southernmost tip of Taiwan.
The Department of Science and Technology — Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said Batanes was initially hit by a magnitude 5.4 earthquake at 4:16 a.m., with intensity 6 felt in Itbayat. Intensity 3 was felt in the municipalities of Basco and Sabtang.
Then at 7:38 a.m., a magnitude 5.9 earthquake rocked the province. Intensity 7 was felt in Itbayat, intensity 5 in Basco and intensity 4 in Sabtang and Ivana. Strong aftershocks were recorded.
Officials said people were asleep when the initial earthquake struck. Office of Civil Defense (OCD) administrator Ricardo Jalad said the first tremor caused houses to collapse, killing five people. Three others were killed in the following earthquake. As in other parts of Batanes, many houses in Itbayat are made of stone to withstand strong storms because the province lies in the path of tropical cyclones.
Aside from collapsed limestone houses, damaged structures include the historic belfry of the Nuestra Senora Del Rosario Church.
Itbayat Mayor Raul De Sagon said residents are currently staying at the town plaza. Disaster response and rescue teams from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and medical teams from the health department, have been dispatched to the area.
There are reports that some of the wounded need to be airlifted to Basco for treatment. De Sagon appealed for medicines and doctors for the immediate treatment of those injured.
Videos shared on social media showed residents of Itbayat manually retrieving some of the victims. Search and rescue operations are ongoing amid heavy rainfall and aftershocks.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said government agencies, including the OCD, are coordinating with distressed local government units and the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Batanes.
He said President Rodrigo Duterte has been briefed on the situation, and he directed all agencies to undertake measures to provide assistance to the victims and rehabilitate damaged properties.