By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz, Martin Sadongdong, and Aaron Recuenco
A series of destructive earthquakes, with the “main shock” measuring 5.9-magnitude, led to eight deaths in Batanes province on Saturday morning.
Batanes was first jolted by a 5.4-magnitude tremor around 4:16 a.m., as recorded by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs). Its epicenter was traced 12 km northeast of Itbayat, Batanes.
The earthquake was felt as a “very strong” tremor at Intensity 6 in Itbayat, while it was felt as a “weak” tremor at Intensity 3 in Basco and Sabtang in Batanes.
Science and Technology Undersecretary and Phivolcs OIC Renato Solidum said the earthquakes were generated by an offshore fault, but there is no destructive tsunami threat to the Philippines.
The “main shock” was recorded at 7:37 a.m., measuring 5.9-magnitude on the Richter scale.
It originated almost in the same area as the 5.4-magnitude earthquake.
Phivolcs said “destructive” tremors were felt due to the 5.9-magnitude temblor. It was felt as an Intensity 7 quake in Itbayat, and Intensity 4 in Basco.
Another 5.8-magnitude quake was recorded around 9:24 a.m. and was felt at Intensity 4 in Basco.
So far, at least 60 lesser-sized aftershocks with magnitudes between 2.9 and 3.8 were recorded by Phivolcs on Saturday. Of the recorded aftershocks, eight were plotted from their original source.
Phivolcs said aftershocks are still likely to occur.
Brig. Gen. Jose Mario Espino, director of the Cagayan Valley regional police, said the quake also caused a power shutdown in the island municipality of Itbayat, the worst-hit area in Batanes.
Espino said that among those damaged was the bell tower of the Nuestra Señora Del Rosario in Itbayat.
“Policemen and soldiers were already assisting in the conduct if search and rescue in Itbayat,” said Espino.
Seven of the fatalities were identified as Genward Mina, Eva Valiente, Mary Rose Valiente, Fiona Valiente, Teresita Gulaga, Fausta Caan, 89-year old Tito Asa.
The eighth fatality was a five-day old baby.
Nine of the injured victims were identified as Dionisa Mirabueno, Edward Dita, Althea Manzo, John John Valiente, Gina Valiente, Luning Valiente, Rose Ann Manzo, Lloyd Libaton and Nonisa Balanoba.
Authorities said the casualties were due to collapsed houses and other establishments.
Policemen were also sent to secure the 11 evacuation centers that were set up for local residents.
Based on the police data, there were 911 families, composed of 2,963 persons, which sought refuge at the evacuation centers in Itbayat.
Itbayat, according to 2915 Census, has a population of almost 3,000 and has six barangays.
NDRRMC Executive Director Ricardo Jalad said all the eight fatalities died after their houses collapsed. However, he said all of them were already accounted for.
Meanwhile, the injured victims were rushed to the Itbayat District Hospital for immediate medical attention.
A team from the Philippine Marine Battalion Landing Team (MBLT)-10 and Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) were immediately deployed in Itbayat town to conduct search and rescue operations.
“Hindi naman sila nadaganan, nalaglagan ng mga bato kasi accounted naman lahat sila. Walang missing na naipit (They were not buried, only hit by falling rocks and they were all accounted for. There were no missing persons),” Jalad said.
Aside from houses, several private establishments and churches also sustained damages while cracks were found on the roads. The Basco Airport was also being assessed for damage as of press time.
Authorities found it difficult to relay immediate assistance due to the geographical location of the municipality.
“Kasi itong Itbayat, ang access lang nila doon ay bangka so nagpadala na tayo ng eroplano (The only access to Itbayat is through a boat so we immediately sent a plane),” Jalad noted.
Major Ericson Bulusan, Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) spokesperson, said a C295 aircraft was dispatched by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
It was carrying two more teams of search and rescue personnel from the 1st Rescue Group of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) and various relief goods. The plane reached the area at 9:18 a.m.
The NDRRMC was placed on Blue Alert Status effective 12 noon Saturday as it monitored the effects of the earthquake in Itbayat.
Affected residents were also advised to stay outdoors to be safe from aftershocks, Jalad said.
Palace assures assistance
Malacañang assured victims of the earthquakes that rocked Ibayat and Basco, Batanes, adding that President Duterte will surely visit the areas hit by the natural calamities, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
The said quakes resulted in eight fatalities and at least 60 people sustaining injuries as of Saturday afternoon.
According to Panelo, the Office of the President is closely monitoring the situation and responsible government agencies were already mobilized to respond to the distressed areas.
“Responsible instrumentalities of the national government, such as the Office of the Civil Defense (OCD), are continuously coordinating with distressed local government units, including the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Batanes, as relief operations are going on and in full swing,” he said.
“The President has been briefed on the situation and he directed all agencies to respond and undertake measures to provide assistance to the victims of this force majeure and rehabilitate the damaged properties in the areas,” he added.
Send relief goods
Meanwhile, the military said individuals who are interested to help may send relief goods (food, water, medicines, etc.) at pre-designated areas assigned by the Northern Luzon Command as pick-up points.
These areas are at the Clark Air Base in Pampanga, Laoag International Airport and Tuguegarao Airport. (With a report from Argyll Geducos)