Major quake off Philippines causes panic but minor damage

MANILA Fri Aug 31, 2012 10:25pm IST

1 of 3. A science research specialist monitors computer data on the recorded earthquake at the Seismology agency office in Quezon City, Metro Manila August 31, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Cheryl Ravelo

MANILA (Reuters) - An earthquake of 7.6 magnitude struck off the Philippines on Friday killing one person, damaging roads and bridges and sending people fleeing to higher ground in fear of a tsunami, a politician and authorities said.

The quake was centered off the east coast, 91 miles off the town of Guiuan in Samar province at a depth of about 20 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning for much of the region, but cancelled it about two hours later.

Philippine authorities maintained their tsunami warning for longer, after ordering residents to get out of coastal areas immediately. They cancelled it more than three hours after the quake.

"Residents can now return to their homes. It's safe now, the danger of a tsunami has passed," the Philippine Institute of Volcanology said.

The mayor of Guiuan, Annalisa Quan, told local radio there was no report of major damage.

The head of the national disaster agency, Benito Ramos, said one woman was killed in Cagayan de Oro town on the island of Mindanao when heavy rain and the quake triggered a landslide that buried her house. A child was injured.

Samar congressman Ben Evardone told local radio some bridges and roads were damaged and people had fled from coastal areas in panic, seeking refuge inland.

"We're used to quakes here so residents immediately went to higher ground," Pinky Almaite, a resident of Sulat, a seaside town in Eastern Samar, told Reuters.

"Many were running as they took with them whatever their hands could carry - flashlights, food, clothes, some even took their cows."

Large parts of Samar and Leyte province had no power or internet connections.

"The only lights you see are from vehicles in the streets headed to higher ground," said a radio reporter in the town of Borongan.

The tsunami warning was initially issued for the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Papua New Guinea and other islands in the Pacific including the U.S. state of Hawaii.

Small waves of about 16 cm (6 inches) had hit a southern Philippine island, the seismology agency said, and warned that bigger ones could follow and residents were ordered to get to ground 10 meters (30 feet) above sea level.

The region has been hit by two huge quakes in the past decade. At least 230,000 people in 13 Indian Ocean countries were killed in a quake and tsunami off Indonesia in 2004.

Last year, an earthquake and tsunami off Japan's northeastern coast killed about 20,000 people and triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years after waves battered a nuclear power station.

(Additional reporting by Manny Mogato; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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