NATIONAL TREASURE GONE: Our Lady of Light Parish in Loon, Bohol.



MANILA — The 7.2 magnitude earthquake that shook Bohol last Tuesday morning was 32 times as strong as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in World War II and was even stronger than the 2010 Haiti quake, state seismologists said.

The death toll rose to 171 as of last Thursday night, with 300 others injured, many critical.

It was the strongest to hit Bohol — one of the Philippines’ top tourist destinations — in 23 years, the second having a 6.8 magnitude in February 1990, according to Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

Solidum said the 1990 earthquake in Bohol also damaged heritage churches, roads and bridges, and triggered a tsunami since the earthquake occurred offshore, he added.

“(But) this time, the earthquake occurred inland so there was no possibility of a wave,” he noted.

Phivolcs said the strong temblor’s epicenter is located between the municipality of Catigbian and Sagbayan in Bohol and not in the town of Carmen as the agency earlier said.

The fault also moved vertically.

Solidum said Cebu and Tagbilaran, Bohol suffered from the tremor sourced from the epicenter; Iloilo, some parts of Guimaras, Negros Oriental, Camiguin Island and Northern Mindanao with intensity 5; and Negros Occidental and Dumaguete City with intensity 6.

“The quake was tracked as far as northeast of the Bicol region like Sorsogon and also Masbate, as far as south as Davao city and also Zambaonga,” he added.

Phivolcs has recorded at least 110 aftershocks, with the highest at 4.5 magnitude at around 9:55 a.m.

Local television showed obliterated buildings, cracked roads, downed bridges and chaotic evacuations on Bohol.

The quake also damaged major buildings in Cebu City, a heavily populated commercial center on a nearby island.

Among those hit were a sprawling shopping mall, a prominent hospital and a busy public market.

Ferry and airline services have resumed despite damage to ports and airports in Bohol and Cebu.

The air force was flying 11 tons of relief supplies to Bohol, a military spokesman said.

President Benigno Aquino III, who made an inspection by air of quake-hit areas, warned of stiff penalties for profiteers exploiting the disaster.

The government has declared a state of calamity in both Bohol and Cebu, triggering a freeze on prices there.

Officials said most of 23 damaged bridges in Bohol were impassable and five roads were closed.

Seventeen churches suffered irreparable damage to their old coral-stone structures.

National treasures damaged

Meanwhile, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) is distraught by the extent of damage to the centuries-old churches in Bohol.

“These are actually national cultural treasures, the highest designation of any cultural property,” NCCA legal division chief Trixie Cruz-Angeles said.

Angeles likened the recognition of national cultural treasures to people who were given the honor as national artists.

“If there is a designation for inanimate objects, it is the national cultural treasure,” she said.

The agency is calling on the public to stay away from the damaged churches so as to keep safe, as well as to minimize damage to the structures.

“We appeal to the public to safeguard the national cultural treasures and important cultural property in Bohol. We ask that the public cooperate in preventing unnecessary incursions into the damaged sites to keep themselves safe from injury,” Atty. Trixie Angeles, NCCA legal consultant and vice chairman of the National Committee on Monuments and Sites, told GMA News Online.

According to Heritage Conservation Society, at least 10 churches were damaged by the quake.

They include Church of San Pedro Apostol in Loboc, Church of Our Lady of Light in Loon, Santissima Trinidad Parish in Loay, Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon, Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Dauis, San Nicolas Church in Dimiao, Santa Cruz Parish Church in Maribojoc, Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in Cebu City, Metropolitan Cathedral in Cebu City and St. Catherine’s Church in Carcar, Cebu.

Tours cancelled

Some visitors to Bohol have cancelled reservations, but the damage to tourism was likely to be short-lived, John Patrick Chan, corporate general manager of the Bellevue Hotel group, said in a television interview.

“We expect things to go back to normal soon. We’re lucky the earthquake hasn’t damaged much, much more,” Chan said.

The country’s tourism office said it had seen about 1,000 cancellations to Bohol and Cebu by tourists from South Korea.

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