Staff and volunteers in action following 7.2 magnitude earthquake in the Philippines

Published: 15 October 2013 13:33 CET

By Afrhill Rances in Manila

Following a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck Central Visayas today morning, Philippine Red Cross volunteers and staff have been mobilized to assess the damage and respond to immediate needs. The US Geological Survey (USGS) reported that the quake’s epicentre was about two kilometres south of Carmen, in the island of Bohol.

Information on the extent of casualties and damage is starting to emerge, and so far the Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council says there have been 20 confirmed deaths: 15 in Cebu, four in Bohol and one in Siquijor.

Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of Philippine Red Cross, said the timing of the quake – on a national holiday – had an impact on casualty figures. “It was a strong quake, but while we expect the number of casualties to increase, it could have been worse if people were going on with their routine weekday activities,” she said. “Today is a national holiday, so most people had not yet ventured out of their homes.”  

Immediately after the quake struck, Red Cross chapters in Bohol, Cebu, Negros Oriental and Siquijor provinces, mobilized their action teams to undertake a quick survey of damage. The staff and volunteers are working in coordination with local disaster response teams.

Structural damage has been reported in Bohol and Cebu provinces, with the most significant problems in urban centres such as Tagbilaran and Cebu. Markets, historical buildings and churches, as well as some hospital buildings, are damaged.

Additional Red Cross teams from the national headquarters are being readied for deployment. “We are preparing to send members of our emergency response unit from Manila to support our ground teams who are themselves affected,” Pang said. “We recognize that some of our colleagues in the affected areas are likely to be apprehensive because of aftershocks.”

Meanwhile, Philippine Red Cross is actively sending out updates and issuing safety reminders using social media services, including Twitter.

“Our top priority is to save lives and to prevent potential loss of lives that may be caused by aftershocks and collapse of structures whose integrity has been weakened,” Pang said.

As rescue and assessment operations progress and the scale of devastation becomes clearer, Philippine Red Cross will roll out a comprehensive relief operation.