20 dead as quake hits Philippine tourist islands
People gather on the street next to damaged buildings in Cebu City, Philippines after a major 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the region on October 15, 2013
Fifteen of the confirmed fatalities were in Cebu, the second most important city in the Philippines and a gateway to some of the country's most beautiful beaches, civil defence office spokesman Reynaldo Balido told reporters.
The quake had a magnitude of 7.1 and struck just 20 kilometres (12 miles) underground on the neighbouring island of Bohol, the United States Geological Survey reported.
"I was fast sleep when suddenly I woke up because my bed was shaking. I was so shocked, I could do nothing but hide under the bed," Janet Maribao, 33, a receptionist in Cebu, told AFP.
Residents and tourists reported extensive damage to centuries-old churches and modern buildings, while major roads were also ripped open and blocked by landslides.
Balido said five people were also confirmed killed on Bohol and nearby Siquijor islands, famed for their idyllic white sands and turquoise waters that are typically visited by speed boats from Cebu.
Four of those killed in Cebu were at a fish market that collapsed, while a child died in a stampede of people trying to leave a building.
Balido and others involved in the relief and rescue operations warned the death toll would climb, with the full extent of the damage yet to be assessed.
The quake struck at 08:12 local time (0012 GMT) near Balilihan, a town of about 18,000 people on Bohol, at a depth of 20 kilometres (12 miles), the USGS reported.
The town lies across a strait about 60 kilometres from Cebu.
Cebu, with a population of 2.5 million people, is the political, economic, educational and cultural centre of the central Philippines.
It hosts the country's busiest port and largest airport outside of the capital Manila. It also has a major ship building industry.
A university, a school and two shopping malls sustained major damage in the quake, although there were fewer people than normal in the buildings because it was a public holiday, authorities said.
Cebu's airport was not badly affected, and resumed operations shortly after the quake.
However the Philippines' oldest church, Cebu's Basilica Minore del Santo Nino, was badly damaged, according to Balido, the civil defence spokesman.
It was first built in the 1500s by Spanish colonisers, although its current stone structure dates back to the 1700s.
A church on Bohol that was built in the early 1600s also collapsed in the quake, according to Robert Michael Poole, a British tourist who was visiting the area.
"It's absolutely devastated... the entire front of the church has collapsed onto the street," Poole told AFP by telephone.
However he said there was nobody in the church at the time of the quake.
Bohol is also famous for its "Chocolate Hills", more than 1,000 small limestone hills that turn brown during the dry season.
Tuesday's quake was followed by at least four aftershocks measuring more than 5.0 in magnitude.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did not issue a Pacific-wide tsunami threat.
The epicentre was 629 kilometres from Manila.
The Philippines lies on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, a chain of islands that are prone to quakes and volcanic eruptions.
More than 100 people were left dead or missing in February last year after an earthquake struck on Negros island, about 100 kilometres from the epicentre of Tuesday's quake.
The deadliest recorded natural disaster in the Philippines occurred in 1976, when a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake devastated the Moro Gulf on the southern island of Mindanao.
Between 5,000 and 8,000 people were killed, according to official estimates.
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