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Major quake shakes Philippines, six dead

Update: October, 15/2013 - 12:05

CEBU, Philippines – At least six people were killed when a 7.1 magnitude earthquake destroyed buildings in and around one of the Philippines' major tourist hubs on Tuesday, authorities said.

Four people were confirmed dead at a fish market that collapsed in Cebu, the second most important city in the Philippines and a gateway to some of the country's most beautiful beaches, the local government said.

Another person was killed in a nearby market, while one child was killed in a stampede as people panicked to leave a building, Cebu governor Hilario Davide told ABS-CBN television.

"I was fast sleep when suddenly I woke up because my bed was shaking. I was so shocked, I could do nothing but hide under the bed," said receptionist Janet Maribao, 33.

"I was so scared, I could not even run out of the house. It was only 30 minutes later that we were able to leave the house."

The quake struck at 08:12 local time (0012 GMT) 5km east of Balilihan, in the Bohol region of the archipelago, at a depth of 20km, the agency said.

The town lies across a strait about 60km from Cebu.

Photos on social media showed extensive damage to old churches and modern buildings, including a university, while major roads had also been torn apart. Patients streamed out of one of Cebu's major hospitals, which was damaged. Local media reported one floor of the building caught fire.

In the immediate aftermath of the quake, authorities were struggling to reach or contact damaged areas, with power lines as well as phone networks down, and a clear picture of the disaster had yet to emerge.

Neil Sanchez, head of the Cebu disaster management office said authorities were trying to confirm reports that a school had collapsed, with an undetermined number of children trapped.

"Communication lines are quite difficult here. Even the disaster risk reduction management office has been damaged. We had to move elsewhere," Sanchez told ABS-CBN television.

Cebu and surrounding areas impacted by the quake are among the Philippines' most popular tourist destinations, largely due to the region's many beautiful beaches. Bohol also is famous for its "Chocolate Hills".

Cebu, with a population of 2.5 million people, is also the political, economic, educational and cultural centre of the central Philippines. It hosts the country's busiest port and largest airport outside of Manila. It is also has a major ship building industry.

Tuesday's quake was followed by at least four aftershocks measuring more than 5.0 in magnitude.

The USGS initially reported the quake as having a magnitude of 7.2, but shortly afterwards lowered it to 7.1.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did not issue a Pacific-wide tsunami threat.

The epicentre was 629 kilometres from the capital, Manila.

Balilihan has a population of around 18,500, according to the town's official website.

The Philippines lies on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, a chain of islands that are prone to quakes and volcanic eruptions.

More than 100 people were left dead or missing in February last year after an earthquake struck on Negros island, about 100 kilometres from the epicentre of Tuesday's quake.

The deadliest recorded natural disaster in the Philippines occurred in 1976, when a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake devastated the Moro Gulf on the southern island of Mindanao.

Between 5,000 and 8,000 people were killed, according to official estimates.AFP

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