UPDATE 5 — Powerful quake off Philippines triggers small tsunami, kills 1

GUIUAN, PHILIPPINES (BNO NEWS) -- A powerful earthquake struck the Pacific Ocean off the eastern coast of the Philippines on Friday evening, killing at least one person in a landslide and generating a small tsunami which caused no damage, emergency officials said on Saturday.

The 7.6-magnitude earthquake at 8:47 p.m. local time (1247 GMT) was centered about 112 kilometers (69 miles) east of Guiuan, a municipality in the province of Eastern Samar in the Philippines. It struck about 45 kilometers (27.9 miles) deep, making it a shallow earthquake, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS).

Shaking was felt widely through large parts of the Philippines, including the capital Manila which is nearly 750 kilometers (466 miles) northwest of the epicenter, but the intensity was mostly light to moderate. Few damage was immediately reported, but more detailed reports are expected later on Saturday.

Benito Ramos, the Executive Director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), said one fatality was reported as of 2 a.m. local time on Saturday. He said national emergency services and other organizations were placed on heightened alert to assist with evacuations and possible rescue operations.

The casualty was reported in Cagayan de Oro, the provincial capital of Misamis Oriental, where an earthquake-triggered landslide buried a house owned by 48-year-old Danilo Ubalde. Ramos said the man's wife, 44-year-old Elenita Ubalde, and grandson, 5-year-old Adrian Rosales, were inside.

"The victims were brought to the Capitol University Hospital but Elenita Ubalde was declared dead on arrival while Adrian Rosales is still undergoing treatment for injuries," Ramos said. He said five houses in the city were also damaged by flash floods which were caused by the tremors.

In Bunawan, a municipality in the province of Agusan del Sur, a house caught fire when a gas lamp fell during the earthquake. Minor damage was reported in Davao City, the largest city on the island of Mindanao, where the Abreeza Mall of Bajada suffered minor cracks on its floor. Two bridges were damaged in Eastern Samar province where authorities also reported a large power outage.

Philippines President Benigno Aquino III instructed officials to ensure that emergency evacuations in the affected areas be peaceful and orderly, his spokesperson said in a statement. Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman also said its offices in the region are ready to deliver food packages if needed.

Catastrophe modeling company EQECAT, in a preliminary assessment, estimated that insured losses are expected to be little to none because strong shaking was limited to remote and rural islands in the eastern part of the Philippines. "Limited damage can be expected to vulnerable buildings on the islands closest to the epicenter, which experienced moderate to strong shaking," the company said.

EQECAT said the earthquake occurred on a segment of the Philippine Sea Trench which has no historic record of major earthquakes, although the segment to the north of it experienced an 8.1-magnitude earthquake in 1897 and earthquakes with magnitudes up to 8.3 in 1991, 1989, 1929, and 1924. "This indicates that today's earthquake occurred in a potential seismic gap," the company said.

The powerful earthquake, initially reported as having a magnitude of 7.9, triggered widespread tsunami warnings for the Philippines and other countries in the Pacific Ocean. PHIVOLCS issued a level 3 tsunami alert for coastal areas in several provinces, warning residents of high tsunami waves and urging them to move to higher ground.

The evacuation of coastal areas was ordered in Northern Samar, Eastern Samar, Leyte, Southern Leyte, Surigao del Norte, and Surigao del Sur. "People in threatened coastal areas are strongly advised to immediately evacuate to higher grounds. Coastal areas in the [named] provinces are expected to be affected by high tsunami waves," the agency said in a bulletin.

But only small tsunami waves were recorded by gauges, although reports indicate waves may have reached a height of up to 0.5 meter (19.6 feet) when they reached coastal areas in Pilar municipality on the island of Siargao. The National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) reported a small tsunami wave of 19 centimeters (7.4 inches) in Surigao City.

"Waves not higher than half meter were also reportedly observed in Pilar, Surigao del Norte in Siargao Island about 10 minutes after the earthquake," Ramos said. "No bigger tsunami associated with this earthquake is expected to follow after this cancellation. All tsunami alerts are now lifted."

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had also issued tsunami warnings for Indonesia, the Pacific island nation of Palau, Yap, Taiwan, Japan, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Papua New Guinea. A watch was also in effect for Chuuk, the Japanese coral atoll Marcus Island, Kosrae, Pohnpei, the Marshall Islands, Wake Island, the Solomon Islands, Russia, Nauru and the U.S. state of Hawaii.

The Philippines is on the so-called 'Pacific Ring of Fire', an arc of fault lines circling the Pacific Basin which is prone to frequent and large earthquakes. Volcanic eruptions also occur frequently in the region, where economic development has expanded rapidly in recent decades, although mostly in urban areas.

A strong and shallow 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck about 5.8 kilometers (3.6 miles) northwest of Tayasan, a 4th class municipality in the province of Negros Oriental, on February 6. The quake destroyed more than 6,300 houses, killing at least 51 people and leaving 62 others missing.

Other earthquakes in recent history in the Philippines include a powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake which struck the densely populated island of Luzon in July 1990, killing at least 2,412 people and injuring thousands more. It was one of the most deadliest earthquakes in the Philippines in recent history.

Only more deadly was an enormous 8.1-magnitude earthquake in August 1976 which shook Mindanao island and had its epicenter in the Moro Gulf. It caused a destructive tsunami in the Celebes Sea, causing devastation in settlements along the coast of the Moro Gulf on Mindanao island and on the nearby Sulu Islands.

The earthquake in August 1976 was felt on all of the central islands of the Philippines Archipelago and in the southern part of Luzon. As a result of the earthquake and tsunami, more than 8,000 people were killed or left missing, 10,000 were injured, and 90,000 were left homeless.

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