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Philippines tsunami threat lifted after powerful earthquake

Residents and medical personnel evacuate patients from inside a hospital after a 7.6 earthquake struck Butuan City on the southern island of Mindanao
Residents and medical personnel evacuate patients from inside a hospital after a 7.6 earthquake struck Butuan City on the southern island of Mindanao - TED ALJIBE/AFP via Getty Images

A powerful, magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck the southern Philippines on Saturday, the US Geological Survey said, temporarily triggering fears of a possible tsunami as big aftershocks rumbled in the area.

The quake struck at a depth of 20 miles at 10.37 pm local time (2.37 pm GMT) about 13 miles northeast of Hinatuan municipality on Mindanao island, the USGS said.

Several hours later, early on Sunday, two powerful aftershocks of magnitude 6.4 and magnitude 6.2 shook the region following the first quake, USGS said.

The initial quake triggered tsunami warnings of “life-threatening wave heights” by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, and orders for coastal residents to flee to higher ground.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii also issued an alert but later said that the danger had lifted.

‘Minor sea level fluctuations may occur’

The US Tsunami Warning System said based on all available data, “the tsunami threat from this earthquake has now passed”.

“Minor sea level fluctuations may occur in some coastal areas,” it said.

Some areas of the Philippines and southwestern Japanese coasts were previously expected to be hit by tsunami 3ft waves, with the Philippines seismology institute maintaining its tsunami warning into early Sunday.

It said waves of more than one metre above the normal tides were expected to hit the coast and advised people in Surigao del Sur and Davao Oriental provinces to “immediately evacuate” to higher ground or further inland.

Owners of boats were told to secure their vessels and move away from the shore.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage but Hinatuan police Sergeant Joseph Lambo said the quake was “very strong”.

“Appliances fell off the shelves at the police office and two TV sets were broken. The motorcycles parked outside also tumbled down,” Mr Lambo told AFP.

“Right now we don’t have reports of damage or casualties but people are evacuating because of the tsunami alert.”

Destructive quakes occur at random

Earthquakes are a daily occurrence in the Philippines, which sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, an arc of intense seismic as well as volcanic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.

Most are too weak to be felt by humans but strong and destructive quakes occur at random with no technology available to predict when and where they will happen.

A video, shot by Dennis Orong, showed people screaming as they ran along a street in Lianga, a coastal municipality of Surigao del Sur.

“I was shaking in fear, mainly because of exploding electric poles,” the 26-year-old hairdresser told AFP. “It was very traumatic.”

Dyl Constantino, 25, said the quake was felt strongly on Siargao Island, northeast of Mindanao.

“We’re used to earthquakes here, but this one was different because the doors were really shaking and so we were all panicking,” he said.

It comes nearly two weeks after a 6.7 magnitude quake hit Mindanao, killing at least nine people, shaking buildings and causing part of the ceiling of a shopping mall to collapse.