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Strong Quake Rocks South Philippines

March 6, 2002

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ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) _ Falling debris killed four people as a strong earthquake rocked the southern Philippines at dawn Wednesday, toppling walls and a water tank in a southern city and causing a power outage, officials said.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 6.8, struck around 5:15 a.m. and was centered about 10 miles under the sea 147 miles southwest of General Santos, said Mylene Carlos of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

Regional army spokesman Maj. Julieto Ando said heavy debris crushed two people in the extreme southern Philippine town of Lake Cebu while falling construction blocks in nearby Sarangani province killed another two. Their names have not yet been released.

He said several towns in the largely rural area have not yet reported to authorities and he expected the death and injury tolls to increase.

At least 15 people were injured by falling objects in their homes and taken to several hospital, mostly in General Santos city, about 620 miles southeast of Manila, said regional police Chief Supt. Bartolome Baluyot.

Besides the direct deaths from the earthquakes, Baluyot said two people died of heart attacks after the tremors and two others were killed by stray bullets due to a local superstition that firing in the air scares spirits that cause earthquakes.

The Civil Defense Office said the quake damaged or destroyed at least 18 houses and forced the temporary preventative evacuation of 5,000 people to areas beyond any possible tidal wave caused by the earthquake.

The office said a landslide set off by the shaking destroyed an empty elementary school in the nearby province of South Cotabato while the shaking collapsed two churches, a small medical center and a store nearby.

No one was hurt in the collapses, the office said.

``Many of the buildings in the rural areas are one story or two stories and that accounts for the lack of damage,″ Civil Defense Chief Maj. Gen. Melchior Rosales said. ``We have no reports of a building collapsing completely.″

He said the tremor also caught most people sleeping, instead of using area roads, bridges or public buildings that could have increased the danger.

Rosales said Coast Guard officials were on alert for possible tidal waves, or tsunamis, provoked by the earthquake but found no evidence of one.

General Santos City council member Eduardo Leyson said a large steel water tank atop a 20-foot steel frame collapsed to the ground but no one was injured. The tank supplied water to about 1,000 households, he said.

In Zamboanga city, more than 190 miles west of General Santos, people were shaken awake by the temblor but no one was reported hurt.

The earthquake, felt in wide areas in various intensities on the main southern island of Mindanao, also caused a power outage in Iligan City north of General Santos.

The tremor was caused by the movement of the Cotabato Trench, where an earthquake created a tsunami, or a massive wave, that killed more than 5,000 people in the Moro Gulf region northwest of General Santos in August 1976.

The Philippine lies in the Pacific ``ring of fire″ where volcanic activities and earthquakes are common.