Philippines

Earthquake drills minimize casualties in Philippine tremor

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Manila (dpa) - Philippine Defence Secretary Orlando Mercado said Monday the government's disaster preparedness programme helped minimize casualties in a powerful earthquake that rocked northern provinces over the weekend and left five people dead.

Mercado said the government's call for regular fire and earthquake drills in public buildings since September, after the devastating tremor in Taiwan, have kept various hospitals and other establishments on their toes.

He noted the orderly conduct of doctors, nurses, and even patients at the government-run Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila at the height of the earthquake on Sunday.

''The patients (at PGH) said that their evacuation was very orderly because they conducted a drill before the earthquake,'' Mercado said. ''That's why we are requiring these drills in all hospitals and public buildings.''

''It is important that we move on from disaster response to disaster preparedness,'' Mercado said as he called on schools, hospitals, and other public buildings to continue holding fire and earthquake drills.

The earthquake measuring 6.8 on the open-ended Richter Scale shook Manila and at least eight northern provinces at 2:03 a.m. (1803 GMT) Sunday, jolting people out of their sleep and sending them into the streets.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) said only five people were killed during the earthquake, four of them elderly people succumbing to heart attacks. The fifth casualty was an 11-year-old girl who died when hit by a collapsed wall.

At least 37 others were slightly injured when hit by fallen objects, the NDCC said in a report.

Goverment and private structural engineers have been scouring buildings, bridges and other infrastructure in the quake-hit areas to assess possible damages.

In Manila, which was among the hardest-hit areas by the quake, several government buildings, including the office of the Department of Public Work and Highways, were found to have been slightly damaged by the tremor.

In the northwestern province of Zambales, near the epicentre of the earthquake, at least two public markets, two churches, and a bridge were partially damaged, disaster relief officials said.

Raymundo Punongbayan, director of the Philippine Institute of Vulcanology and Seismology, said the damage was minimal since the earthquake's focus was offshore and nearly 65 kilometres deep. dpa jg gl jh

AP-NY-12-13-99 0456EST

Copyright (c) 1999 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 12/13/1999 04:57:16

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