PHILIPPINES - Rescue workers raced yesterday to reach isolated communities on a popular Philippine tourist island that was devastated by a huge earthquake, as aftershocks tormented survivors and the death toll climbed to 144.
The 7.1-magnitude earthquake smashed the central island of Bohol on Tuesday morning, triggering landslides that engulfed entire homes, ripping apart bridges and tearing down centuries-old churches.
At Loon, a small coastal town of about 40,000 people just 20km from the epicentre of the earthquake, shocked survivors wandered around the rubble of collapsed buildings looking for relatives.
Farmer Serafin Megallen said he dug with his hands, brick by brick, to retrieve his mother-in-law and cousin from the rubble of their home on Tuesday.
"They were alive but they died of their injuries three hours later. There was no rescue that came, we had to rely on neighbours for help," he said.
The national disaster agency said the number of people confirmed killed on Bohol and neighbouring islands had climbed from 93 to 144, and more bad news was expected as rescue workers were yet to reach some villages and towns.
"Our efforts today are focused on reaching isolated areas. We suspect individuals are trapped out there and we have to conduct search and rescue," National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council spokesman Reynaldo Balido said.
With destroyed bridges, ripped-open roads and power blackouts fragmenting the island of about one million people, he said the authorities were struggling to reach isolated communities and had no idea how bad the damage was in some areas.
"We don't even have an estimate... we are just assuming that since there were collapsed buildings, we must search for them," Mr Balido said, when asked how many people remained missing.