The Philippines Institute of Volcanology and Seismology reported that the earthquake hit 7.2 on the Richter scale, and located its epicenter about 32 miles underground near the small town of Carmen on the island of Bohol. According to Renato Solidum, the director of the Institute, "a magnitude 7 earthquake has an energy equivalent to 32 Hiroshima bombs".
The director of the police in the region of Visayas Central, Superintendent Danilo Constantino, informed the media that 77 people died on the island of Bohol, while the other victims were found on the islands of Cebu and Siquijor. There have been no reports of any foreign casualties among the casualties.
The 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck at 8:12 AM local time. The aftershocks began 17 minutes later, the first with a magnitude of 5.4 and a second aftershock of 5.3 magnitude following 4 minutes later. The volcanology agency said that it recorded nearly 300 aftershocks.
Schools, offices and universities were evacuated. Some airports and ports have been temporarily closed while the authorities inspect them for safety reasons.
Aside from the sorrow and the terrible deaths that the earthquakes have brought, there has been devastating material damage. The infrastructure of the area has suffered terrible consequences, ruining hospitals, roads, bridges, official buildings and monuments. More than 10 historical churches have been affected by the earthquakes, amongst them the Basilica Menor del Santo Nino, in Cebu, considered the oldest Catholic church in the country.
Most of the material damage was registered in the town of Cebu, a city that holds a population of 800,000 people and that was located 60 kilometers from the first earthquake. Cebu is the second most important economic and trade center of the Philippines, preceded only by the capital, Manila.
The archipelago of the Philippines is located in what is called the "Ring of Fire" of the Pacific, an area with intense seismic and volcanic activity. More than 75 percents of the world's active and inactive volcanoes are located in this area, and up to 90 percent of the biggest earthquakes take place here. Strong earthquakes are common in the central Philippines, and its population has undergone many earthquakes, but none have been as devastating as this most recent grouping.
On Wednesday President Benigno Aquino III visited Bohol and Cebu to asses the damage and oversee rescue efforts. The President, accompanied by members of the Cabinet, assured the survivors of the natural disaster that their needs would be taken care of.
Aquino told the population that that power would be restored in a few days, that water supply would be continuous, and that structures would be inspected. Food packs, tents, and bunkhouses have also been promised, but it is going to be extremely difficult to distribute them amongst the population considering the extent to which roads have been destroyed.
Aquino will have a lot of work waiting for him once he returns from a state visit to South Korea, which he will be attending on the 17th of October.
In the meantime, the authorities are doing their best to provide relief and assistance to the affected areas.
Photo by Dennis M. Sabangan/EPA.