A magnitude-7.2 earthquake struck in the central Philippines on Tuesday morning, killing 20 people and severely damaging some of the country's most hallowed churches, authorities said.
The earthquake hit at 8:12 a.m. (5:12 p.m. Monday ET) less than a mile from the town of Carmen in Bohol province, the U.S. Geological Survey and Philippine emergency authorities said. Carmen is in a remote region across the Cebu Strait about 40 miles from Cebu City.
At least two aftershocks rated at magnitude 5.0 or greater followed.
Twenty people were reported killed, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said early Tuesday afternoon — 15 in Cebu province, four in Bohol province and one in Siquijor province.
Advertise | AdChoices
Two buildings and a fish port collapsed in Cebu City, the Philippines' fifth-biggest city and one of its leading tourist destinations, as did the roof of a mall under construction, authorities said.
Part of Cebu Doctors' University in Mandaue City collapsed, the Manila Bulletin newspaper reported, and the bell tower was destroyed at the Minor Basilica Del Santo Niño in Cebu City.
The Loboc Church in Bohol, built by the Spanish in the 17th century, was toppled. The centuries-old churches of Baclayon, Loon and Dauis, also in Bohol, sustained significant damage, provincial Gov. Edgar Chatto said.
Power was reported out across Cebu City and Masbate and Bohol provinces, the official Philippine Information Agency said. The Philippine Red Cross asked people in the region to use their phones only for emergencies so first responders and rescue operations weren't hampered.
Chatto told ABS-CBN TV news that emergency crews were looking into reports of damage across the province.
"Even now as we are talking, there is an aftershock," he said.
Chatto said people in the area "are now a little bit in a situation of panic" about the possibility of a tsunami, but the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued no warning and said historical data indicated little chance of one.
"We are trying to explain to the public that the area is surrounded by several islands" and is shielded from any rising waters, Chatto told ABS-CBN.
Civil defense officials said casualties may have been reduced because many businesses and schools were closed Tuesday for Eid al-Adha, the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice, which is a national holiday.
Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, chief of the Philippine Central Command, told the Daily Inquirer national newspaper that he had recalled soldiers from their holiday furlough to respond to the quake.
Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.