Powerful earthquake in Philippines prompts tsunami alerts and evacuations

7.5 magnitude earthquake strikes Philippines, tsunami alerts issued in Philippines and Japan
7.5 magnitude earthquake strikes Philippines, tsunami alerts issued in Philippines and Japan

MANILA, Dec 2 – A massive earthquake of at least 7.5 magnitude rocked the southern region of Mindanao in the Philippines on Saturday night, setting off tsunami alerts in the country and in Japan. However, a U.S. agency later said the danger of large waves had subsided.

The U.S. Tsunami Warning System initially cautioned of waves as high as 3 metres (10 feet) above the normal high tide level, but then said the tsunami threat had dissipated.

In the Philippines, evacuations were still ongoing, as there were no immediate reports of major wave damage or casualties amid ongoing aftershocks.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, or Phivolcs, warned that the tsunami risk was still present.

Japan’s Hachijojima island, located about 290 km (180 miles) south of Tokyo, recorded waves of 40 cm (1.3 feet), according to the Japan Meteorological Agency, which had previously said they could reach up to a metre (3 feet).

Phivolcs advised residents near the coast of Surigao Del Sur and Davao Oriental provinces in the Philippines to evacuate or move to higher ground.

It also updated its previous statement to say it anticipated some damage from the quake.

The two provinces are mostly rural and sparsely populated, unlike other areas of the Philippines.

The region was swiftly hit by over two dozen aftershocks, the strongest one measuring 6.5 magnitude, according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC).

Raymark Gentallan, the police chief of Hinatuan, a coastal town with a population of around 44,000 that is 30 km (19 miles) from the quake’s epicentre, said the power had been cut off since the quake.

He told MM that they were evacuating people from coastal areas, and that disaster response teams had not encountered any casualties or damage yet.

James Soria, a small hotel owner in Hinatuan, said his home had suffered considerable damage.

He said it was shaking again as he spoke to MM, before the call was interrupted by another aftershock.

Photos shared on social media by Hinatuan’s local government showed many residents and vehicles heading to higher ground, with one large shelter housing several dozen people.

Cosme Calejesan, 47, a resident of Surigao City, which is 185 km (115 miles) from the epicentre, said his house had sustained some damage but was still standing.

He said he was asleep when the quake happened, but was awakened by the noise of his cabinets.

He said it was scary and sudden, and he was concerned for his children.

The Philippines is prone to earthquakes, as it is situated on the “Ring of Fire”, a zone of volcanoes and seismic activity that encircles the Pacific Ocean.

The EMSC reported that the quake had a magnitude of 7.5 and a depth of 63 km (39 miles), while the U.S. Geographic Survey estimated the quake at 7.6 magnitude and a depth of 32 km (20 miles), and said it occurred at 10:37 p.m. (1437 GMT).