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 on Sunday.
The US Geological Survey reported that the quake on Saturday night had a magnitude of 7.6 and struck at a depth of 32km.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said it expected tsunami waves to hit the southern Philippines and parts of Indonesia, Palau and Malaysia, but later dropped its tsunami warning.
In Japan, authorities issued evacuation orders late on Saturday in various parts of Okinawa prefecture, including for the entire coastal area, affecting thousands of people.
A pregnant woman died when she was hit by a 4.5m concrete wall that collapsed as the ground shook and prompted her to flee her home in Tagum city in Davao del Norte province, the city’s disaster-mitigation chief, Shieldon Isidoro, said. 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 patch of grass, said Mr 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!’” he said.
While he feared the roof of his house would collapse on him, Mr 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 hospital in Tagum but were later 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 due to the earthquake and tsunami scare, including in some that were drenched by an overnight downpour, officials said.
Defence secretary Gilberto Teodoro jnr told a news conference that authorities were assessing the quake’s impact but initial reports indicated there was no major damage except to two bridges, and pockets of power cuts. One death was reported with a few injuries, he said.
Teresito Bacolcol, head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, said shortly after the quake hit that his agency had advised residents along the coast of Surigao del Sur and Davao Oriental provinces, which were near the epicentre of the undersea quake, to immediately evacuate to higher ground or move further inland.
Pictures posted on the Facebook account of Hinatuan town in Surigao del Sur province show residents fleeing to higher ground on foot or in cars, trucks, motorcycles and tricycle taxis overnight.
Many villagers who fled to evacuation centres returned to their homes on Sunday, officials said.
After undertaking inspections, civil aviation officials said there was no major damage in several airports in the south and there was no disruption to flight operations.
The Philippines, one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries, is often hit by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions due to 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.