Thousands return home after Philippines quake, tsunami warning lifted

GUIUAN, Philippines Fri Aug 31, 2012 11:19pm EDT

1 of 3. A science research specialist monitors computer data on the recorded earthquake at the Seismology agency office in Quezon City, Metro Manila August 31, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Cheryl Ravelo

GUIUAN, Philippines (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of people on a central Philippine island returned home on Saturday after a tsunami alert was lifted following a 7.6 magnitude undersea quake, as local authorities began work to repair damages to public infrastructure.

The earthquake 91 miles off the town of Guiuan on Samar island on Friday killed one person and caused only minor damage, but prompted the U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center to issued a tsunami warning.

Philippine authorities ordered thousands of people living in coastal villages to evacuate, but on Saturday those that had fled to higher grounds were returning home, said Conrado Nicart, governor of Eastern Samar province.

"We've sent out our engineers and repair teams to inspect roads, bridges and public buildings," Nicart told radio, adding the earthquake caused minor infrastructure damage.

"Our people were reporting cracks on roads and municipal gymnasiums, and approaches on a bridge near Mercedes town were also damaged but remained passable to light vehicles."

The tsunami warning was initially issued for the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Papua New Guinea and other islands in the Pacific including the U.S. state of Hawaii.

Small waves of about 16 cm (6 inches) did hit a southern Philippine island, the seismology agency said.

"It was really scary, that was the strongest earthquake I felt in my life," Alice Caba-caba, a 50-year-old mother of four, told Reuters from her small canteen in Guiuan town, saying she was watching television when jolted by the tremor.

"Everything was shaking and falling down. Our television was broken. After the shaking, I gathered my children and we fled to a safer place because our house is near the beach. Everybody was praying, children were crying and all are panicking."

Eastern Samar, a typhoon-prone coconut-growing area facing the Pacific, is one of the poorest provinces in the Philippines. Nearly 90 percent of the sparsely populated towns are along the coast and most of the structures are low-rise buildings.

The region has been hit by two huge quakes in the past decade. At least 230,000 people in 13 Indian Ocean countries were killed in a quake and tsunami off Indonesia in 2004.

Last year, an earthquake and tsunami off Japan's northeastern coast killed about 20,000 people and triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years after waves battered a nuclear power station.

(Writing By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Michael Perry)

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