Philippines quake leaves at least 13 dead

A strong earthquake in the central Philippines has killed at 13 people with at least 40 people still missing.

As many as 30 houses buried and dozens of people injured

During a press conference, Bartolome Bautista, deputy director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, points to the epicentre of the magnitude 6.8 earthquake which hit central Philippines on Monday. (Bullit Marquez/Associated Press)

Rescuers dug with picks and shovels trying to reach dozens of people trapped under houses collapsed by a strong earthquake on Monday that shook the central Philippines and set off landslides.

At least 13 people were killed and 40 were believed missing, most of them along the shore near the epicentre of the 6.9-magnitude quake that struck in a narrow strait just off Negros Island.

The quake caused a landslide in Guihulngan, a city of about 180,000 people in Negros Oriental province. As many as 30 houses were buried, Mayor Ernesto Reyes said.

"Their situation is bad because if you are covered by landslide for one hour, two hours, how can you breathe?" he said. "But we just hope for the best, that there are still survivors."

Rescuers were using picks and shovels to dig for survivors, he said.

Reyes said at least 10 people were confirmed dead in his town, including students at a college and an elementary school and others in a market that collapsed. About 100 were injured.

The quake, which hit at 11:49 a.m. local time, triggered another landslide in the mountain village of Solongon in La Libertad town, also in Negros Oriental. An unknown number of people were trapped, said La Libertad police Chief Insp. Eric Arrol Besario.

"We're now getting shovels and chainsaws to start a rescue because there were people trapped inside. Some of them were yelling for help earlier," Besario told The Associated Press by phone.

3 key bridges cracked

Three key bridges in the town cracked and were no longer passable, he said.

Philippine seismologists briefly issued a tsunami alert for the central islands. Huge waves washed out five bamboo and wooden cottages at a beach resort in La Libertad, but there were no reports of injuries, said police Superintendent Ernesto Tagle.

Elsewhere along the coast, people rushed out of schools, malls and offices.

The epicentre was closest to Tayasan, a coastal town of about 32,000 people flanked by mountains in Negros Oriental province. Two died there, including a child when a concrete fence of a house collapsed, said Benito Ramos, head of the Office of Civil Defence.

People rush to higher ground following tsunami rumours due to a magnitude 6.9 earthquake which hit the island province of Cebu and other central Philippine provinces. (Associated Press)

Another child was killed in a church when a wall collapsed during a funeral in Negros Oriental's Jimalalud town, Mayor Reynaldo Tuanda said.

Tayasan police officer Alfred Vicente Silvosa told AP by phone that aftershocks were preventing people from returning to their homes.

"We are outside, at the town plaza. We cannot inspect buildings yet because it's dangerous," Silvosa said. "I felt the building shaking, so I rushed out of the building. Our computers, shelves, plates, the cupboards, water dispenser all fell."

A three-storey office building also collapsed in La Libertad, but occupants escaped.

Residents seek shelter

Negros Oriental police Chief Edward Carranza said the temblor damaged many houses in Guihulngan and he ordered his men to help displaced residents find shelter.

Officials in some areas suspended work and cancelled classes.

Power and telecommunications were knocked out in several places.

Carranza said police rushed out of his building when the quake struck. "All my personnel ran out fearing our building would collapse," he said.

"Now it's shaking again," he said as an aftershock hit. "My keychain is dancing."

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centred 72 kilometres north of Dumaguete city on Negros and hit at a depth of 46 kilometres. The area is about 650 kilometres southeast of the capital, Manila.

The Philippines is in the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common. A 7.7-magnitude quake killed nearly 2,000 people in Luzon in 1990.