Itbayat quake survivors camp out as aftershocks sow terror

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 29 2019 08:36 AM | Updated as of Jul 29 2019 12:16 PM

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MANILA -- Edgy locals in Itbayat, Batanes camped in makeshift tents in their town square as aftershocks jolted the country's northernmost town on Monday, 2 days after a string of powerful earthquakes flattened decades-old houses to the ground and left at least 8 dead. 

President Rodrigo Duterte, who conducted an aerial inspection of the destruction on Sunday, refrained from landing in Itbayat to prevent the tents from being blown away, said Batanes Governor Marilou Cayco. 

"Halos hindi tumatayo ang mga tao pagdating ko... Tinitingnan lang ako. Hanggang ngayon, na-shock," she told radio DZMM. 

"Walang bumabalik sa bahay dahil hanggang ngayon malalakas pa rin ang aftershocks," she added. 

(Almost all of the residents did not even stand up when I arrived. They were just looking at me. They are in shock until now. No one has returned to the houses because the aftershocks are still strong.) 

Three strong tremors with magnitudes ranging between 3.2 and 5.9 toppled Saturday the island's treasured limestone houses and the belfry of a centuries-old parish, tore deep cracks in the road and forced the evacuation of a hospital.

At least 230 aftershocks have been recorded as of 4 a.m., according to seismology office Phivolcs. The tremors are getting weaker and striking with a bigger time gap, but residents should not discount the possibility of an aftershock stronger than magnitude 5.9, said Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum. 

Authorities said some of the dead, including 2 babies under a year old, were crushed by the walls of their own homes.

"Talagang kalunos-lunos po. Halos lahat ng bahay sa Itbayat ay sira po... Iyung iba po ay nag-crack sa gilid," said Cayco. 

(It is heartwrenching. Almost all of the houses in Itbayat were destroyed. Others cracked.) 

Residents need portable toilets, water resistant "banigs" or sleeping mats, and mosquito nets. Those whose homes were completely destroyed will receive P60,000 in government aid, while those with partially damaged houses will get P20,000, the governor said. 

Batanes is pounded every year by tropical cyclones and homes are built of stone to survive the annual onslaught.

"Ang pinaghahandaan kasi namin is iyung bagyo. hindi namin pinaghandaan talaga iyung lindol," said Itbayat Mayor Raul de Sagon. 

(We prepare for storms. We didn't prepare for earthquakes like this.) 

Itbayat has been spared from moderately strong quakes in the last 50 years, noted Solidum. 

Limestone, the island's primary construction material, can be eroded by water over time, making structures unable to withstand even weak tremors, he told DZMM. 

"Siguro dapat tingnan paano pa mai-improve ang mga bahay at gusali d'yan kasi nakita naman natin, hindi pa iyan major earthquake, marami nang nasira," said Solidum. 

(Perhaps we should look at how to improve the houses and buildings there because we've seen that this is not yet a major earthquake, but many were already destroyed.) 

A resident looks at damaged structures in Itbayat town, Batanes islands, following a string of earthquakes, Saturday. Agnes Salengua Nico, AP

The Philippines is part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from quake-prone Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.

The country's most recent deadly quake occurred in April when at least 11 people were killed and a supermarket collapsed in a 6.1-magnitude tremor hit Pampanga. With reports from Agence France-Presse; Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News