Philippine officials on Wednesday suspended search and rescue efforts for victims who may be trapped after a supermarket collapsed two days ago when a 6.1 magnitude earthquake hit the country’s populous Luzon island.
Mayor Condralito dela Cruz told reporters that rescuers have not found new survivors or casualties from the rubble in Porac town in Pampanga province. A series of aftershocks, one measuring 4.5 magnitude, rocked at dawn Wednesday, causing mild panic but no injuries.
“We risk a repeat of the problem. There have been no signs of life,” dela Cruz said, adding that the search mission would resume once the ruins are deemed safe.
A total of 80 buildings and structures sustained damage in Luzon following Monday’s quake, including in Manila and nearby areas, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
Chuzon Supermarket in the town of Porac has been the focus of search operations, amid reports that several employees could be trapped there. On Tuesday, cheers broke out as rescuers freed seven survivors from the rubble.
Also on Tuesday, a 6.4 magnitude quake struck shortly after lunch time in the eastern region of the Philippines, triggering panic, causing damage to properties without widespread destruction or injuries.
The NDRRMC had placed the death toll from the first quake at 16. Another 14 are officially listed as missing, while 90 people, most of whom were supermarket employees, were also unaccounted for.
Provincial police commander Col. Jean Salvador Fajardo told reporters that sniffer dogs had not found any more signs of life from supermarket and stressed the search operations would continue as soon as given the clear sign by a team of assessors. He said he has hope for those who may be trapped in the rubble.
“Possibly, by the end of this day, we will have a condition whether to convert our rescue into retrieval,” he said.
Duterte surveys damage
President Rodrigo Duterte, who surveyed the aftermath of the earthquake-hit areas, ordered the suspension of all Chuzon store operations until an assessment can be made of all of its buildings.
“Well, in all probability the one who constructed the supermart here could also be the one who constructed others,” said Duterte, who visited the area on Tuesday.
His comments were released by his office Wednesday.
“So it would be good at this time to just give them the advice to stop – cease and desist doing business until such time that clearance is given by government,” he said.
Duterte called for a review to determine if the proper building materials were used and if contractors took shortcuts.
National police director Gen. Oscar Albayalde said the building owner, Samuel Chu, made himself available to authorities.
“Mr. Chu is under the custody of the Porac Municipal Police Station. He is under investigation to determine if there is negligence. He was invited and he voluntarily accepted the invitation (of the authorities),” Albayalde said. “If there is liability, if it is proven that there is lack in structural design, strength in materials, he will be held liable.”
Survivor Romylyn Bhey, 25, a supermarket employee, said she was with a colleague on the fourth floor when it collapsed.
“We were at the court floor and suddenly the building collapse. I didn’t know what to do since it was a total blackout,” Bhey said.
Another survivor, Jason deal Cruz, said he was at the parking area of the supermarket. His wife and two children were inside the building.
“I was supposed to get them, but I missed it,” he said through tears.