A trio of strong earthquakes hit Batangas and damaged buildings, causing panicked tourists to flee a popular dive resort on Saturday, officials and eyewitnesses said.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from the quakes, the strongest of which hit the coast close to Mabini, a resort town in Batangas famous for its marine life and coral reefs. Batangas was still reeling from a quake that hit off Tingloy town Tuesday night.
The first 5.5-magnitude tremor struck inland at 3:08 p.m. followed by a 5.9 quake just a minute later, according to a revised report by the US Geological Service. The first quake was earlier reported as 5.7 magnitude.
A 5.0 quake hit in the same region after another 20 minutes, according to US geologists.
“I was in the pool taking diving lessons when the ground shook…. We all climbed out and ran. Concrete slabs were falling,” Filipino tourist Arnel Casanova, 47, told AFP by telephone from a Mabini dive resort.
“When I went back to my room the ceiling had collapsed and the glass windows were broken, but so far everybody is safe,” said Casanova, who was at the resort with his 20-year-old son.
He said resort guests remained outside the damaged buildings more than an hour later as the area was hit with aftershocks.
The quakes caused landslides, which blocked two roads and further damaged the old Taal Basilica as well as a hospital and several houses, officials told ABS-CBN television. The Taal Polymedic Hospital and Medical Center was evacuated.
“We are evacuating some people who live on the coast. We want them to stay in a safe area tonight,” Mabini Mayor Noel Luistro told the station.
He said he expected at least 3,000 residents to move inland in case of further aftershocks, although the state seismology office said there was no threat of tsunamis.
“The town is full of tourists, both local and foreign this weekend,” he added.
The network also broadcast live footage of frightened commuters fleeing the passenger terminal at the port of Batangas, near the epicenters.
The quakes triggered power outages across the region but caused no casualties, Romina Marasigan, spokeswoman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, told AFP. In Manila, AFP reporters saw people running out of office buildings in the financial district.
The Philippines lies on the so-called Ring of Fire, a vast Pacific Ocean region where many of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.
Renato Solidum, chief of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), said the series of earthquakes felt in Batangas can be considered an “earthquake swarm.”
“It is not a major earthquake at all but it could be an earthquake swarm since the magnitudes’ numbers are close with each other,” Solidum told radio station dzMM.
Phivolcs said earthquake swarms happen because of a fault moving incrementally, leading to a series of tremors.
Aftershocks are still possible after the swarm of quakes, he said, advising Batangas residents to remain in their homes.
“It would be best if they will just stay inside their homes. But if their houses were damaged by the earthquake, then that is when they have to get out of their homes,” said Solidum.
Solidum also debunked claims that the series of earthquakes in Batangas were a “sign” of an incoming 8.0-magnitude earthquake and said there was no evidence of a connection with any activity at Taal Volcano.
“This is not a sign. It is not at all related [to any big earthquakes],” he said.
“We are also monitoring the Taal Volcano. But since the earthquake is not that near Taal, there is no possibility [for Taal to be affected by the quake]. As of now, Taal volcano is at alert level zero,” Solidum explained. Malacañang urged the public to stop spreading fake news about the quake.
“Let us not forward information from unverified sources that may cause undue alarm,” spokesman Ernesto Abella said.