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Powerful earthquake causes widespread panic in Philippines

People rush to move a person on a hospital gurney in the southern Philippines.
Patients at Manuel J. Santos Hospital in Butuan City, southern Philippines, are evacuated after an earthquake.
(Ivy Marie Mangadlao / Associated Press)
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A powerful earthquake that shook the southern Philippines killed at least one villager and injured several others as thousands scrambled out of their homes in panic and jammed roads to higher ground after a tsunami warning was issued, officials said Sunday.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the quake Saturday night had a magnitude of 7.6 and struck at a depth of 20 miles. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said it expected tsunami waves to hit the southern Philippines and parts of Indonesia, Palau and Malaysia, but later dropped its tsunami warning.

The USGS recorded further earthquakes Sunday with magnitudes of 6.6 and 6.9, but there were no tsunami alerts.

In Japan, authorities issued evacuation orders late Saturday in various parts of Okinawa prefecture, including for the entire coastal area, affecting thousands of people.

A pregnant woman died after she, her husband and daughter were hit by a 15-feet concrete wall that collapsed in their neighborhood as the ground shook and prompted them to flee from their house in Tagum city in Davao del Norte province, according to the city’s disaster-mitigation chief, Shieldon Isidoro.

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Her husband and daughter were injured. Two other children and their parents jumped from a second-floor window in panic as their house swayed but were not injured after landing on a grassy lot, said Isidoro, who was at his home when the ground started to shake.

“Initially the swaying was weak. Then it quickly became stronger and I could hardly stand. My perfume bottles fell off a table, pictures on my wall swung and I heard people screaming outside: ‘Get out, get out, earthquake, earthquake!”’ Isidoro said.

While he feared the roof of his house would collapse on him, Isidoro said he was more worried that there could be many casualties in Tagum, a city of about 300,000 people, where he had led regular earthquake drills that he thought helped prevent more deaths and injuries.

Hundreds of patients were evacuated from a Tagum hospital but later were escorted back after an inspection showed no major damage to the building, officials said.

Thousands of residents stayed outside their homes for hours in many towns because of the earthquake and tsunami scare, including in some areas that were drenched by an overnight downpour, officials said.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said during a news conference that authorities were assessing the quake’s impact but initial reports indicated there was no major damage.

Teresito Bacolcol, the head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, told the AP shortly after the quake hit that his agency advised residents along the coast of Surigao del Sur and Davao Oriental provinces, which were near the epicenter of the undersea quake, to immediately evacuate to higher ground or move farther inland.

Pictures posted on the Facebook account of Hinatuan town in Surigao del Sur province show residents fleeing to higher ground on foot or aboard cars, trucks, motorcycles and tricycle taxis overnight.

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The Philippines, one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries, is often hit by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions because of its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of seismic faults around the ocean. The archipelago is also lashed by about 20 typhoons and storms each year.

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