Rescuers search for missing after Philippine quake

TAYASAN, Philippines Tue Feb 7, 2012 7:16am EST

1 of 2. Earthquake survivors cry while waiting to be evacuated along a highway in La Libertad, Negros Oriental in central Philippines February 7, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Erik De Castro

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TAYASAN, Philippines (Reuters) - Philippine rescuers searched on Tuesday for 29 residents of a mountainside community feared dead after a landslide triggered by an earthquake engulfed their homes.

A magnitude 6.7 quake struck near Tayasan town in the central Philippine island of Negros on Monday. Fifteen people are known to have been killed while several remote towns have been cut off because of damage to roads and bridges.

Soil and rocks buried homes in a neighborhood in Guihulngan City near the quake's epicenter, which had also seen heavy rain in the days before the earthquake, disaster officials said.

"It looks like there is no more hope of finding the 29 missing alive," Benito Ramos, head of a state disaster agency, said in a radio interview.

The state disaster agency said it was checking reports that 40 people were missing in another landslide in La Libertad town, also in Negros Oriental province.

Aftershocks rattled the region with more than 700 of them in the 20 hours after the quake struck, a seismology institute said, and officials warned residents to have their houses checked if they had been damaged.

"They should not panic and make sure they secure all items that may fall. Structures with minor damage should be first inspected if safe to use," government seismologist Winchell Sevilla said in a radio interview.

A Reuters witness saw huge cracks on main roads and concrete structures in Ayungon town adjacent to Tayasan, where mausoleums in cemeteries had also caved in.

Roel Degamo, governor of Negros Oriental province, said in a radio interview residents were calming down on Tuesday despite the aftershocks and were starting to return to the homes they left immediately after the quake.

(Reporting by Erik de Castro; Writing by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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