MANILA A magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck the central Philippine island of Negros on Monday, triggering landslides that toppled houses and killing at least 12 people, including two children, officials said.
Government offices and schools were closed after at least 240 aftershocks jolted the area. The army put the death toll higher, but the state disaster agency could not confirm the figures.
A grade-six pupil died after being plucked out from a collapsed chapel wall while a nine-year-old girl was killed when the concrete wall of a school crumbled, officials said.
Most of the deaths were due to the landslide in La Libertad, in Negros Oriental province, near the quake's epicenter -- 5 km (three miles) off Tayasan town, in a strait separating the islands of Negros and Cebu. The tremor was recorded at a depth of 10 km, according to local calculations.
A three-storey building caved in, seaside cottages were wiped out, and about 20 houses sustained damaged following a sudden rise in water levels along the shoreline, the disaster agency said.
The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake at magnitude 6.7 and at a depth of 12.4 miles.
The army reported another landslide in La Trinidad town had either partially or fully buried 100 houses. The army reported looting in another part of Negros Oriental, saying it was coordinating with police to restore order.
The volcanology and seismology institute lifted a tsunami alert. Some roads, bridges, schools, government buildings and houses sustained cracks, but major roads remained passable despite the aftershocks.
One aftershock registered 6.2 magnitude more than six hours after the quake.
"While the threat of immediate danger appears to have passed, we urge the people in affected areas to remain watchful and calm, and to cooperate with the authorities," a presidential spokesman said.
Television footage showed people scurrying out of buildings, residents converging in open spaces and schoolchildren in tears.
"I have advised our people to return to their homes and stay calm. I appeal to our president for help. We're just recovering from Typhoon Sendong and now this earthquake," Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo said in a television interview. He was referring to a typhoon which killed about 1,250 people in the southern Philippines in December.
The quake was felt in areas within a radius of about 70 miles, according to Reuters' calculations.
Over the weekend, the USGS recorded a magnitude 5.6 quake off the shore of Samar province in central Philippines, to the northwest of Negros.
The Philippines lies on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. A 7.8 magnitude quake in 1990 in the northern Philippines killed more than 1,600 people.
(Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Ron Popeski)