The northernmost province of the Philippines, Batanes, has long been known as a punching bag for the Pacific typhoon season, and at worse a disaster magnet. That is not entirely true when strictly scientifically speaking, but the inhabitants did leave lasting reminders reminds of how they needed defense against extremes of the weather with their heritage Stone Houses. But the Batanes islands have more than just the possibility of a typhoon visit to worry about. Case in point, this past weekend the province was struck by a series of powerful quakes that killed some and injured many, plus damaged structures.
The Philippine Star reports that Batanes was victim to a combination of earthquakes early on Saturday, July 27, one significant foreshock and the follow-up main tremor. Respectively the quakes were measured at magnitudes 5.4 and then 5.9, both of relatively shallow depths close to the Batanes island municipality of Itbayat. According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology the earthquakes were tectonic in nature, and were felt at an Intensity VII in Itbayat itself while the other municipalities of the province recorded lesser Intensities from VI to IV. Closer to the epicenter the tremor would have had a maximum Intensity of VIII according to the United States Geological Survey.
In the most recent estimates the Batanes Provinicial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council have recorded nine fatalities as told to Inquirer.net, while Batanes Governor Marilou Cayco tells ABS-CBN News that over 100 people have been injured. And while the old Stone structures that the province is famous for could theoretically withstand storms and typhoons, many were no match against the shaking of the ground. Hard-hit was Itbayat’s Santa Maria de Mayan church, built in the 19th Century out of limestone, the bell tower of which was shaken to cracking by the foreshock and finally topped by the main quake.
Due to structural safety concerns all inhabitants of Itbayat were advised not to enter their homes following the primary tremors and aftershocks, with over 2,000 residents of the island municipality assembled at the town plaza. Among the other affected buildings were the one-story Itbayat District Hospital, which spurred evacuation of the patients to a nearby roofed basketball court that withstood the shaking. Another stroke of good fortune was the undamaged state of the Itbayat Airport, allowing the immediate transport of medical personnel and army troops to aid in relief efforts.
Governor Cayco notes that she is considering the declaration of a state of calamity as soon as she decides that the death, injury and damage tolls have reached a critical level. President Rodrigo Duterte also travelled to Batanes to personally oversee the situation close hand.
Image courtesy of GMA News