Rescue workers tend to a victim in Porac, Pampanga, after a powerful earthquake hit northern Philippines on April 22, 2019. At least five people were killed when buildings collapsed near Manila after a powerful earthquake set skyscrapers swaying and drove terrified locals into the street. Rescuers in one area were using heavy equipment and their bare hands to hunt for survivors in the rubble left by the strongest quake to strike close to the densely populated Philippine capital in years.
Noel Celis/AFP
Powerful Zambales quake: Death toll rises, hunt for survivors continues
( - April 23, 2019 - 10:24am

MANILA, Philippines (Update 2 3:23 p.m.) — Rescuers were scrambling Tuesday to reach dozens of people feared buried under a supermarket building in Porac, Pampanga that collapsed a day earlier in a powerful earthquake, as the death toll climbed to 16.

The 6.1 magnitude quake struck the town of Castillejos, Zambales, northwest of the capital, on Monday, state volcanologists at Phivolcs said, heavily damaging an airport and sending terrified locals fleeing swaying high-rises. 

The worst of the damage was in the province of Pampanga, which was the site of 15 fatalities, disaster officials said. Fourteen people were reported missing in Central Luzon while dozens of others were injured by falling rubble, including in Manila.

The toll could rise as crews fanned out across the region to assess damage in isolated hamlets that lost power and communications in one of the area's strongest tremors in years.

Over 400 aftershocks have been registered since the initial quake.

At least 24 trapped inside

Scores of rescuers in the town of Porac were wielding cranes and jackhammers to peel back the pancaked concrete structure of the four-story Chuzon Supermarket building where the Red Cross said 24 people were unaccounted for.

"Every minute, every second is critical in this rescue," Cris Palcis, a volunteer sniffer dog handler, told AFP. "Time is short for the people under the rubble so we have to be quick."

Pampanga Gov. Lilia Pineda told journalists that rescuers could still hear at least one person trapped beneath the rubble, but the digging was proceeding delicately to avoid accidentally crushing the survivor.

The quake also damaged several centuries-old churches which were crowded with worshippers in recent days as the majority-Catholic Philippines marked the Easter holiday.

'Really swaying'

Father Roland Moraleja, who is based in Porac, said the 18th-century belfry of Saint Catherine of Alexandria church collapsed in the quake.

"It was the only part left from the old church," he told AFP. "The historical value is now gone, but we are hopeful that it will rise again."

High-rise buildings in the capital swayed after the tremor struck Monday evening, leaving some with large cracks in their walls.

The 18th century St. Catherine of Alexandria church is seen after its bell tower was destroyed following a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that struck the town of Porac, pampanga province on April 23, 2019.
Ted Aljibe/AFP

Thousands of travelers were stranded after aviation authorities shut down the secondary Clark Airport, which is located on the site of the former US military installation that lies about an hour's drive north of the capital.

It was still closed on Tuesday as officials assessed the heavy damage to the terminal building and some cracking on the air traffic control tower. 

The quake was centered on the town of Castillejos, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) northwest of Manila, local geologists said.

Seismologists put the Monday's tremor at 6.3 initially, but subsequently downgraded it to a 6.1 magnitude.

Dani Justo, a martial arts instructor, told AFP she was at her southern Manila home when the quake struck.

"The clothes hanging on our line were really swaying. My shih tzu (dog) dropped flat on the ground," she added.

The Philippines is part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from quake-prone Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.

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