By Jeanne Michael Penaranda
BAGUIO CITY/MANILA – A powerful earthquake jolted Abra, Ilocos Sur and many parts of northern Luzon and Central Luzon, resulting to death initially to five but fatalities was raised later 10 persons and injuries to more than 300 and damaging buildings, roads, old churches and heritage sites.
Officials said two people were reportedly killed in Benguet, one in Kalinga, one in Abra, and another one in Cagayan province. The bodies of four people were later retrieved after they were buried by a landslide in Benguet, raising the fatalities to 10.
The earthquake also disrupted the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) operations and services by some private and government agencies and the courts in Metro Manila where the temblor was also felt prompting many to leave buildings for safer grounds.
The tectonic quake of magnitude 7 in Abra and six in parts of Ilocos Sur, which had a depth of 25 kilometers, struck 2 kilometers northeast of the municipality of Lagangilang in Abra at 8:43 a.m. on July 27.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who flew to Abra to inspect and oversee work to assist the victims, ordered the immediate delivery of relief assistance to the victims.
Secretaries Antonio Lagdameo Jr. (Special Assistant to the President), Benjamin Abalos Jr. (Local Government), Jose Faustino (Defense), and Erwin Tulfo (Social Welfare) and Sen. Imee Marcos joined Marcos in his visit to Abra where he met local and regional officials in the affected areas in a briefing and dialogue.
In a press conference, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said Marcos mobilized the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and concerned agencies and local government units (LGUs) to ensure the speedy assistance to quake victims in Abra and nearby areas.
“He (Marcos) has ordered an immediate dispatch of rescue and relief teams to Abra. The President is also coordinating with local officials there, and all agencies involved in disaster preparation and relief, equipment for use all of these have been ordered dispatch by the president,” Cruz-Angeles said.
Marcos has also directed the telecommunications service providers to provide immediate assistance and free communication to all locations where towers have gone down “to keep these communication channels open.”
The strong quake, described by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) as a “major” and “destructive” temblor, was the strongest recorded in the Philippines in years. More than 1,000 aftershocks were later felt, some as strong as magnitude 5.
Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum said the quake triggered landslides which blocked some roads and highways and cut off electric and telecommunication services. Solidum warned of more damages as scores of aftershocks rattled the region.
Latest reports from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) on July 31 stated that up to 375 people have also been wounded from the quake, which affected more than 314,000 people coming from the Cordillera, Ilocos and Cagayan Valley regions.
The NDRRMC’s latest report stated that 34,291 people were displaced, of whom, more than 3,800 are staying in 42 evacuation centers.
The agency reported 21,890 damaged houses, most of them partially.
At press time, 43 roads and 7 bridges were listed as damaged, but the NDRRMC said that 84 percent of these are now passable to all vehicles.
All of the 48 towns and cities that lost their power supply right after the earthquake have also regained electricity, while three out of four affected areas also have water supply as of Sunday, July 31.
Damage to infrastructure is estimated to cost P414.2 million.
The government has provided more than P11.6 million worth of assistance, the NDRRMC said.
Twenty-seven areas have been placed under a state of calamity, the council added.
In October 2013, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck Bohol province, killing over 200 people and triggering landslides.
In 1990, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in the northern Philippines created a ground rupture stretching over a hundred kilometers. Fatalities in that quake in Baguio City, Dagupan City and Nueva Ecija were estimated at over 1,200 and caused major damage to buildings.
Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. said in an initial report to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at a meeting in Malacanang’s Kalayaan Hall four persons were killed in Benguet, one in Abra, and another one in Mountain Province and scores were injured.
Based on the initial reports, Abalos said the affected regions are 1, 2, and Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), or 15 provinces, 15 cities, 218 municipalities, and 6,756 barangays.
National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) chairman and Defense Officer-in-Charge Jose Faustino Jr. said the agency convened emergency meetings with other regional directors and issued directives of response actions following the quake.
Faustino, in his report to Marcos, said the Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) issued two emergency alerts and warning messages in coordination with the PHIVOLCS.
“Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) prepared assets for mobilization already, we are talking about air assets and we could add more kung kinakailangan pa [if needed],” he said.
A total of 227 aftershocks have already been recorded as a result of the magnitude 7 earthquake that jolted Abra.
The Phivolcs said five of these aftershocks were felt, while 12 were plotted or located.
In Bantay, Ilocos Sur, the historic Bantay Bell Tower almost collapsed in the quake as shown in videos that circulated on social media.
The centuries-old church belfry previously served as a watchtower for the town and for the nearby capital city of Vigan during the Spanish colonial period, protecting both areas from pirates and other enemies, according to the Department of Tourism.
Also damaged in Ilocos Sur were the Vigan Cathedral and several houses and structures in Vigan City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for having preserved much of its Hispanic colonial character that dates back to the 16th century.
In Ilocos Norte, the Sarrat Church, the heritage building of Sarrat Municipal Hall and the sinking bell tower in Laoag City were also damaged in the quake, according to Sen. Imee Marcos.
Meanwhile, some parts of Santa Catalina de Alejandria parish church in Tayum, Abra caved in after the strong tremor.
The shallow but powerful quake also left a trail of damage in houses and buildings in Abra
Baguio City was also jolted by the quake but it was spared from the destruction, Mayor Benjamin Magalong said.
“All is well naman dito sa Baguio. No reported serious injuries, including damages, no serious damage sa mga imprastraktura natin dito,” Magalong said.
No casualties were also reported in the city, something that the mayor said he found “surprising.”
Classes and work in the entire city were suspended following the quake, he said.
The Office of Civil Defense (OCD) closed Kennon Road to traffic, while the Marcos Highway only has one passable lane.
Naguillan Road, meanwhile, was still open to traffic.
Magalong also assured that there is enough food supply in the city, advising residents not to panic.
In 1990, Baguio suffered most from the magnitude 7.7 earthquake.