SURIGAO, Philippines (AP) — Philippine officials on Sunday warned survivors of a powerful earthquake that left at least eight people dead in the country's south to ensure their homes and buildings are sturdy enough before venturing back amid continuing aftershocks.
A strong aftershock alarmed residents, some of whom screamed in fear, while waiting for President Rodrigo Duterte to arrive to console earthquake survivors gathered in a gymnasium in the hard-hit capital of Surigao del Norte province.
The magnitude 6.7 quake struck late Friday, killing at least eight people, injuring more than 200 and damaging the main provincial airport and about 1,000 houses in Surigao, officials said. Some residents said the shaking was so strong they could not stand up to rush out of their houses.
Officials appealed for volunteer engineers to help check the stability of damaged schools, hospitals, malls, hotels and other buildings, especially in the provincial capital of Surigao city, which has been placed under a state of calamity to ensure a rapid release of emergency funds and prevent food hoarding. Power was restored Sunday in some parts of the city.
"Our call is do not return hastily after the strong quake," said Romina Marasigan, spokeswoman of the government's National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. "We have to ensure that our residences are safe."
"The critical infrastructures — the schools, the hospitals and offices that provide services — should also be checked if they are still safe for use," she said. "We are again reiterating our appeal for help from civil and structural engineers to ensure the safety of the people."
Renato Solidum, who heads the Philippine Institute of Seismology and Volcanology, said at least 137 aftershocks had hit following the quake. "Aftershocks are normal after a strong earthquake. Typically, these may last for days, up to weeks," he said.
Among the structures damaged by the quake were 12 schools, six bridges and some shopping malls, many of which had visible cracks, shattered glass windows and damaged canopies. The quake may have busted tap water pipes, limiting supply in Surigao city, which lies about 700 kilometers (430 miles) southeast of Manila, and three outlying towns, officials said.
Duterte arrived more than three hours late in Surigao city because his entourage had to make a detour following the closure of its airport due to deep cracks in its runway. He later expressed sympathy and pledged financial help to quake survivors needing medical treatment.
The Philippines sits in the Pacific "Ring of Fire," where earthquakes and volcanoes are common.
The last major earthquake that struck Surigao, an impoverished region also dealing with a communist insurgency, was in 1879, Solidum said. A magnitude 7.7 quake killed nearly 2,000 people on the northern island of Luzon in 1990.
Following Friday's quake, communist guerrillas declared an indefinite cease-fire in quake-hit areas to foster rehabilitation work and help people recover faster from the calamity. "Rest assured we will not do any harm to the military as long as they will not come to our areas," Comrade Oto, a regional rebel spokesman, said in a statement.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila contributed to this report.