CEBU, Philippines - A powerful earthquake killed at least 85 people in the Philippines Tuesday as it tore down modern buildings, destroyed historic churches and triggered terrified stampedes across popular tourist islands.
Fifteen of the confirmed fatalities were in Cebu, the country's second most important city and a gateway to some of its most beautiful beaches, the national disaster agency reported.
The 7.1-magnitude quake killed another 69 people in the neighbouring island of Bohol, famed for its rolling "Chocolate Hills", while one other person died on nearby Siquijor, which attracts tourists with its pristine white sands.
"I was thrown to the ground by the strength of the quake. Broken glass rained on me," Elmo Alinsunorin, who was on duty as a guard for a government tax office in Cebu, told AFP.
"I thought I was going to die."
Authorities said the death toll could still climb, with officials struggling to assess the extent of the damage in the worst-hit areas of Bohol where roads were impassable and power was cut.
Nevertheless, they expressed relief the earthquake occurred on a public holiday, meaning there were fewer people than normal in many of the major buildings that suffered damage.
The quake struck at 08:12 (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 the largest airport outside of the capital Manila. It also has a major ship building industry.
A university, a school and two shopping malls, public markets and many small buildings sustained damage in the quake.