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Powerful earthquake hits northern Philippines

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A 7.0-magnitude earthquake killed at least four people in the northern Philippines Wednesday, toppling buildings, and shaking high-rise towers more than 300 kilometres (185 miles) away in the capital Manila.

The shallow but powerful quake struck the mountainous and lightly populated province of Abra on the main island of Luzon at 8:43 am (0043 GMT), the US Geological Survey said.

Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage than deeper ones. This one left more than a hundred people injured across the hilly region, triggered dozens of landslides, damaged buildings, and knocked out power.

“We felt really strong shaking. We started shouting and rushed outside,” said university student Mira Zapata in San Juan municipality of Abra, which took the full force of the quake.

“Our house is ok but houses down the hill were damaged.”

As buildings shook and walls cracked in the municipality of Dolores in Abra, people ran outside, Police Major Edwin Sergio told AFP.

“The quake was very strong,” Sergio said, adding that windows of the local market were broken.

“Vegetables and fruits sold in the market were also disarranged after tables were toppled.”

In Bangued, the provincial capital of Abra, a 23-year-old woman was killed after a wall fell on her, police said. At least 62 people were injured in the province.

A video posted on Facebook and verified by AFP showed cracks in the asphalt road and ground in Bangued.

“Some of the buildings here show cracks,” police chief Major Nazareno Emia added. “Power was cut off and internet as well.”

Two construction workers in the nearby landlocked province of Benguet died in separate incidents, police said.

Another person was killed when he fell off a building site in the mountains of Kalinga province, where eight people were also injured, police said.

In Vigan City, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the province of Ilocos Sur, centuries-old structures built during the Spanish colonial period were damaged, police said.

Ring of Fire
The Philippines is regularly rocked by quakes due to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.

Wednesday’s quake was one of the strongest recorded in the Philippines in years and was felt across swathes of Luzon island, the most populous in the archipelago.

It was followed by nearly 300 aftershocks, the local seismological agency said. Several of the subsequent quakes measured from magnitude 4.7 to 5.2, according to USGS.

Residents and office workers in Manila were evacuated from high-rise buildings.

“I grabbed money and our belongings and then I went out with my parents,” said Christina Gonzales, 19, after fleeing a city hotel.

Verified video footage posted on Facebook showed the Bantay Bell Tower in the popular tourist destination of Vigan partially crumbling.

Two visitors suffered minor injuries from falling debris, an official said.

Other buildings in the city were also damaged.

“We can’t rule out the possibility of another strong earthquake,” said Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, whose family stronghold is in the north, said he would delay visiting the region to avoid causing disruptions.

He urged people to remain in emergency shelters until their homes have been checked for damage.

Military personnel have been deployed to Abra to help with rescue operations.

At least 58 landslides have been reported , Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos said.

National disaster agency spokesman Mark Timbal said road-clearing operations were underway. There had been no reports of damage to local dams.

In October 2013, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck Bohol Island in the central Philippines, killing over 200 people and triggering landslides.

Old churches in the birthplace of Catholicism in the Philippines were badly damaged. Nearly 400,000 were displaced and tens of thousands of houses were damaged.

The powerful quake altered the island’s landscape and a “ground rupture” pushed up a stretch of ground by about three meters, creating a wall of rock above the epicentre.

In 1990, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in the northern Philippines created a ground rupture stretching over a hundred kilometres.

Fatalities were estimated to reach over 1,200 and caused major damage to buildings in Manila.