Rescuers dug through the rubble of collapsed buildings looking for survivors in the wake of a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that killed at least 144 people on the Philippine islands of Bohol, Cebu and Siquijor.
Officials said on Wednesday that at least 23 people were missing, some under a collapsed public hospital, church and a home in the town of Loon on Bohol island, 630km south of the capital, Manila.
“The most heavily hit in terms of casualties was the town of Loon, and there are still ongoing processes there, of recovery,” Edgardo Chatto, Governor of Bohol, said.
On the island of Bohol, the quake’s epicentre, emergency services said they counted at least 100 bodies. Officials said that 23 bridges were damaged, most impassable, and five roads were closed, making rescue operations difficult.
Officials feared the toll would rise as communications with remote areas were re-established.
Al Jazeera’s Jamila Alindogan said the local government had recorded at least 800 aftershocks since the quake struck. The subsequent tremors caused further damage and left residents anxious about returning to their homes.
The biggest issue at the moment in Bohol is security, our correspondent said.
Patrick Fuller, from the Red Cross, told Al Jazeera that authorities were responding efficiently to the crisis.
“It will be a long road to recovery, because so many people have lost their homes,” he said.
Officials said they had managed to pull three survivors from the rubble of shattered office buildings, homes and century-old churches on Cebu.
Many historic churches dating from the Spanish colonial period had suffered tremendous damage.
“The heritage old churches are also very close to the hearts of the Boholanos. So, I have talked to the Bishop and I have talked to the President and we were saying that we have to ask people and authorities to keep all the rubbles in tact (in place),” Chatto said.
Nearly half of a 17th-century limestone church in Loboc town, southwest of Carmen, was reduced to rubble, as was the largest church on the island in Loon town, where three worshippers were buried alive.
The entire province was without electricity after the quake cut power supplies. The government has declared a ‘state of calamity’ in both Bohol and Cebu, triggering a freeze on prices there.
The Philippine archipelago is located in the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common.
A magnitude 7.7 quake killed nearly 2,000 people on the northern island of Luzon in 1990.