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Deaths, damage as quake jolts Visayas

Posted on October 17, 2013

CEBU CITY/MANILA -- A powerful earthquake jolted the Visayas yesterday morning, killing at least 67 people and causing widespread infrastructure damage.

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake, which struck at 8:12 a.m. and lasted for over a minute, was felt as far as Legazpi in Luzon and Zamboanga in Mindanao.

Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology chief Renato U. Solidum, Jr. said its energy was comparable to 32 Hiroshima atomic bombs.

The epicenter was located two kilometers southeast of Carmen town in Bohol, an island popular with tourists. Also hit hard was neighboring Cebu and Siquijor. Aftershocks totalled 287 as of late afternoon and were expected to continue for several days.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported that 67 deaths had been confirmed as of 6:00 p.m. yesterday, with 57 in Bohol, nine in Cebu and one in Siquijor. It said 164 were injured.

Officer Herminigildo Gargar of the Bohol provincial police, however, told BusinessWorld that based on field reports, 65 had been killed on the island.

“Most of them were hit by falling debris or by coconut trees,” he said.

No casualties were reported in Carmen but 90% of the town’s concrete structures were damaged, police officer Nelson Cagapa said.

In Cebu, five were crushed to death as part of the Pasil Fish Market collapsed. In Pinamungahan town, a child was crushed as people lining up for government doleouts stampeded out of a sports complex.

In Bohol, which relies heavily on tourism income, portions of the centuries-old churches of Baclayon, Loboc and Loon collapsed. In Cebu, the belfry of the Basilica del Sto. Niño, the oldest Catholic church in the country, crumbled. A state of calamity was declared in both Bohol and Cebu, and also in the city of Mandaue.

Damage to buildings and infrastructure was widespread, although collapses were not extensive. Casualties were said to be light as the country was celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Landslides were also reported.

Flights and boat trips were briefly suspended. A highway in Cebu was said to have been rendered impassable, while power and water supplies were disrupted. The whole Bohol and parts of Cebu were still without power and water as of 5:00 p.m. yesterday.

Classes have been suspended in the Central Visayas to allow engineers to conduct building checks. In Manila, Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr. told the Public Works department to facilitate the inspections.

President Benigno S. C. Aquino III said he would visit Cebu and Tagbilaran in Bohol today to ensure that “things that should be done are being done.”

While the final quake toll still has to be determined, officials said the economic impact would likely be limited, particularly in Cebu which hosts several ecozones and is a call center hub.

“None of the locators in Cebu and in the whole of Visayas were damaged. Workers, however, were sent home to their families,” Philippine Economic Zone Authority Director-General Lilia B. de Lima said.

Outsourcing operations were suspended, however, given the need for building checks, the Contact Center Association of the Philippines (CCAP) said. “Re-entry into the buildings will only commence once the buildings have been cleared that they are safe,” CCAP president Benedict C. Hernandez said.

Lito R. Maderazo, president of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said infrastructure damage appeared to be “minor,” with immediate impact likely limited to businesses having to close for building inspections.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio R. Balisacan said the economic toll was still to be determined, but University of Asia and the Pacific economist Victor A. Abola said this would likely be “minimal.”

“I’ve not seen reports about damaged facilities or production areas. If there’s no damage in the production areas, then there should be minimal effect on the economy and on fourth-quarter GDP,” Mr. Abola said.

The Visayas accounts for a little over a tenth of gross domestic product. The economy as a whole expanded by 7.6% in the first semester, above the government’s 6-7% target. -- from reports by the Visayas Bureau, and Imee Charlee C. Delavin and Daryll Edisonn D. Saclag in Manila