By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
MANILA (Worthy News) – A Christian nurse “thanked God” on Wednesday that she and her family survived after a powerful 7-magnitude earthquake struck the northern Philippine island of Luzon, killing at least four people.
Virgie van Helden told Worthy News she felt the quake that damaged churches and other buildings and sent strong tremors through the national capital, Manila, as well as nearby Quezon City.
“We are living at the high-rise building on East Avenue in Quezon City when the complex was shaking. We were on the 6th floor when it happened. Thank God me and my young daughter Nicole and my nephew who live here are safe,” she said.
Her words reflected those of other survivors who spoke about a swing and lights suddenly going out. Footage obtained by Worthy News showed people rushing outside Van Helden’s flat as the quake shook buildings.
The quake also prompted terrified crowds and hospital patients in the capital to run away, witnesses said. Others rushed out of offices and described hearing screams, with some people clearly in tears.
The U.S. Geological Survey says the province of Abra on the main island of Luzon was the epicenter of a 7-magnitude quake, which struck at a shallow depth of about 10 kilometers (6 miles).
Not everyone could be saved. Among the dead was a villager who was killed when falling cement slabs hit him in his house in Abra, where at least 25 others were injured and were primarily confined in hospitals, officials said.
A construction worker was reportedly hit by debris and died in the strawberry-growing mountain town of La Trinidad in Benguet province, where landslides and boulders shut some roads.
Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos said 60 people were injured, including 44 in Abra province. The minister added that 173 buildings were damaged and 58 landslides were reported.
Among the victims were five people who were injured when rocks and debris pummelled their SUV and a truck on a hillside road in Mountain province near Benguet, officials said.
Many houses and buildings had cracked walls, including some that collapsed in Abra, where President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. planned to travel Thursday to meet victims and local officials.
Marcos Jr., who took office less than a month ago, told a news conference he was in his office at the riverside Malacanang presidential palace complex when the chandeliers began swaying and making clanking sounds. “It was very strong,” he said of the ground shaking.
In a chilling near-death experience, Filipino photojournalist Harley Palangchao and companions were traveling downhill in two vans in Mountain Province when they suddenly heard thunder-like thuds.
They described seeing an avalanche of boulders as giant as cars raining down just ahead of them from a towering mountain.
Amid screams of his companions in their van to “back up, back up!” the 44-year-old father of three raised his camera in the front seat and snapped what he feared could be the final pictures of his life.
The van in front of them was grazed by a boulder, injuring one, but he and others in the second van drove backward fast enough and escaped unscathed.
“I thought there should be at least a record if something happened to us. It was a horrific experience.”
The Red Cross issued a picture of a three-story building precariously leaning toward a debris-covered road in Abra. A video taken by a panicking witness showed parts of an old stone church tower peeling off and falling in a cloud of dust on a hilltop.
Patients, some in wheelchairs, and medical personnel were evacuated from at least two hospitals in Manila, about 300 kilometers (200 miles) south of Lagangilang. They were later told to return after engineers found only a few minor cracks on the walls.
The quake’s strength was lowered from the initial 7.3 magnitude after further analysis, news reports said.
Yet it led to fears among people still recalling the magnitude 7.7 quake that killed nearly 2,000 people in the northern Philippines in 1990.
The Philippines lies along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of faults around the Pacific Ocean where most of the world’s earthquakes occur.
It is also lashed by about 20 typhoons and tropical storms each year, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.
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