Rescuers dug up two more bodies Monday as they searched for missing people buried inside a three-story grocery store that collapsed after a magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck large parts of the southern Philippines.
As of Monday afternoon, the official death toll released by the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) stood at five, including two women whose remains were pulled out of the rubble of the Southern Trade Shopping Center in Padada town in Davao del Sur province.
A 6-year-old girl was killed when a wall of her house in the nearby town of Matanao tumbled down and hit her in the head, while two people died in adjacent areas when they suffered cardiac arrests as a result of Sunday's tremor, local officials said.
“We have already taken out two cadavers,” provincial disaster chief Christopher Tan told reporters, referring to the two people recovered Monday from the collapsed shopping center.
“Now, the operations are ongoing,” he said. “But the retrieval officers said that they have detected a heartbeat using an equipment. We are strategizing how to pull him out. Hopefully he can survive.”
At least 49 people were injured, many by falling debris, while almost 6,000 others were displaced after the quake, which also destroyed about 1,900 homes and 26 buildings, government installations and schools, OCD said in a statement.
Fred Trajeras, a local fire officer, said that one of the trapped victims who could still be alive was identified as Emily Gallegos.
A fellow store employee had reported receiving a text message at dawn Monday from Gallegos, who said that she was with six other people when the building collapsed and all of them were still alive, Trajeras said.
“We were able to detect one life inside and there would be a greater probability of saving her,” he said.
Trajeras said the bodies of two women were pulled out of the collapsed building Monday morning.
Ritchel Estender, a member of the shopping center’s maintenance crew, told BenarNews that there were 26 workers inside the building when the ground rumbled. Twenty-four of them managed to extricate themselves out of danger, he said.
“Suddenly, the entire 3-storey building fell (and) a thick dust was covering my body,” he said, adding that he managed to pull out a colleague from the rubble.
“I thought it was my last day. I prayed and stayed focused. When the tremor stopped, we found a way to get out,” Estender said.
Not far from the building was the house of Darlene Villamor, 60, who was thankful she did not push through with her plan to buy groceries. “I was supposed to go there, but I turned around because I forgot something,” she told BenarNews.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) traced the epicenter to the nearby town of Matanao, which was near Padada.
Hundreds of aftershocks recorded
Renato Solidum, the Philippine government’s chief volcanologist, said the earthquake resulted to hundreds of aftershocks, as he advised residents to stay away from damaged structures.
“Aftershocks are typically at the highest in terms of numbers in the first 24 hours – still high during the second or third day,” he said. “Within the week we can still expect aftershocks.”
In Manila, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei Nograles said President Rodrigo Duterte had ordered government agencies to extend round-the-clock assistance to earthquake victims.
“President Duterte is closely monitoring the progress of ongoing operations to thoroughly evaluate the damage of the quake,” he said.
Sunday’s earthquake was the third to hit Mindanao since October. Two quakes measuring 6.6 and 6.5 struck the town of Tulunan within days of each other, killing 22 people and leaving thousands of families displaced.
The Philippines sits on the so-called Pacific Rim of Fire, where earthquakes are frequent, some of which are devastating. In July 1990, a 7.7-magnitude temblor stuck the main Luzon island, killing more than 1,600 people, many of them trapped inside a hotel that crumbled in the northern town of Baguio.