Rescuers search for quake survivors
NEGROS ORIENTAL, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - At least 48 people died and another 92 are missing following the magnitude 6.9 earthquake that struck Negros Oriental province on Monday, an Army officer said on Tuesday.
Rescuers dug through rubble with their bare hands on Tuesday in a frantic search for survivors.
The fatalities are from Guihulngan City and in the towns of La Libertad, Tayasan, Jumalalud and Bindoy, Army 302nd Brigade commander Col. Francisco Patrimonio said on Tuesday afternoon.
Around 56 people were injured in the earthquake.
Of the 92 people missing, 30 were reported buried by a landslide in Planas village in Guihulngan and 42 others were also buried by another landslide in Solongon village in La Libertad town.
Army figures are higher than the official death toll from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
NDRRMC executive director Benito Ramos said based on their records, 15 people died in Guihulngan, Jimalalud, Tayasan, Majuyod, and Bindoy.
At least 52 were hurt while 71 are missing, Ramos added.
Classes in public schools in the province are still suspended as of Tuesday, he said.
Death toll may rise
Office of Civil Defense-Central Visayas Director Minda Morante said the number of deaths, particularly regarding the landslide in Planas, may still rise.
Morante said based on their count, at least 129 people in the province are missing. "We cannot confirm yet if they are already dead but if you consider the account of the barangay captain, he said they were buried. He even gave us names."
Local government leaders also warned the death toll is likely to rise.
"We are praying and hoping that we will get some survivors, but it's likely that many of those missing in the landslides have died already," Roel Degamo, the governor of Negros Oriental, the worst-hit province, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Dozens of people were confirmed dead in Guihulngan, a coastal city flanked by mountains with a population of 100,000, where the public market, court house and many private homes were destroyed or badly damaged.
After the tremor brought down bridges and left deep fissures on asphalt roads, the area was only accessible by motorbike, foot or helicopter, and overwhelmed local police had few resources to search for survivors.
"We are using our hands and shovels to search in the rubble," Guihulngan police chief Senior Inspector Alvin Futalan told AFP.
Degamo said troops finally managed to reach the city and other remote communities on foot, more than 24 hours after the disaster.
President Benigno Aquino ordered the Air Force to deploy helicopters to Guihulngan, as well as the Navy and Coast Guard to transport relief supplies by sea, according to his spokeswoman, Abigail Valte.
An AFP correspondent who reached Guihulngan by motorcycle said survivors were huddled in makeshift tents and refused to go indoors due to a series of terrifying aftershocks.
More than 1,000 aftershocks
State seismologists said more than 1,000 aftershocks, some nearly as strong as the initial quake, have battered Negros as of Tuesday. They warned residents to expect many more over the next few weeks.
Guihulngan Mayor Ernesto Reyes said patients at the city's main hospital were rushed out of the building after a strong aftershock sent the walls rattling and split open a tennis court on Tuesday.
He described a sense of despair and fear throughout the city.
"Our water system is broken, there is not enough food, people are in panic and there is no electricity," he told AFP.
Aside from the carnage in Guihulngan, regional commander Patrimonio said rescue efforts were focused on the nearby town of La Libertad where up to 40 people were feared buried in houses.
He said efforts are underway to restore electricity and water supplies in quake-affected areas.
"The problem on water is dependent on electricity. If we have electricity, we’ll have water," he said. "That is being discussed in the province and I don’t know if there is potable water system that can be provided by the national level, so that at least we can supply water, we can provide water to the residents of Guihulngan."
A Navy ship has also been asked to deliver supplies to Guihulngan.
Cebu, the Philippines' second biggest city with 2.3 million residents and a popular tourist destination, was 50 kilometers from the epicenter and shook violently during the initial tremor but no deaths were reported there. - with a report from Agence France-Presse