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Aquino to visit Philippine earthquake zone; At least 100 dead

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine President Benigno Aquino will visit areas devastated by the strongest earthquake to hit the nation in a year, a temblor that destroyed buildings and triggered landslides that killed more than 100 people.

The magnitude-7.2 earthquake struck 1.2 miles south of Carmen, Bohol at 8:12 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. Aquino plans to visit Bohol and the resort island of Cebu, and may cancel a state visit to South Korea scheduled for Thursday.

“Things that have to be done are being done,” Aquino told reporters Tuesday after presiding over a national disaster council meeting in Manila. “We need to be sure that people are not put in danger by the effects of this earthquake.”

Regional military commander Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda says 100 died on Bohol, the epicenter of Tuesday’s quake. Nine people were killed in nearby Cebu province and another island.

A state of calamity was declared in Bohol and Cebu, prompting schools to close until officials determine the safety of buildings and bridges. The government disaster monitoring agency’s official death toll may rise, as police officials in Bohol said 77 people were killed when the quake caused walls to collapse and triggered landslides in the central province.

The Philippines lies along the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, where tectonic plates collide and about 80 percent of the world’s largest temblors occur. Tuesday’s jolt was the strongest since a magnitude-7.6 temblor struck northeast of Surigao City on Aug. 31, 2012.

The magnitude was equivalent to about “32 Hiroshima atomic bombs,” according to Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. At least 289 aftershocks were recorded, the disaster agency said.

Philippine offices and markets were shut Tuesday for the Eid Ul-Adha holiday, reducing the number of fatalities, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.

“If this happened on a Sunday, especially the time was eight o’clock, then this is another story,” he said.

Robinsons Land Corp. didn’t open its malls in Cebu Tuesday because of a request from the local government, spokeswoman Roseann Villegas said in a cellphone message. A portion of the Gaisano Country Mall and Ayala Center in Cebu collapsed, the disaster monitoring agency said.

Seventeen churches were damaged in Bohol, including the centuries-old Baclayon and Loboc churches that are considered heritage sites, provincial police officer Carl John Legazpi said. The façade and belfry of the Baclayon church were destroyed, according to the disaster monitoring agency.

The bell tower collapsed at the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino in Cebu, one of the country’s oldest churches, the agency said. The Cebu Doctors’ University, St. Vincent Hospital and the Cebu City Medical Center were also damaged.

The Mactan Cebu International Airport and Tagbilaran airfield resumed operations before midday Tuesday after flights were suspended earlier because of damage to terminal buildings, John Andrews, deputy director of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, said by phone.

A four-year-old girl died and six people were injured after a stampede in Pinamungahan in Cebu, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman said at a briefing.

In July 1990, an earthquake killed more than 1,500 people on the main island of Luzon.

In February last year, a 6.8-magnitude quake killed 51 people and left more than 60 missing in the Negros and Cebu regions.

That temblor damaged homes and bridges and forced the closure of offices, schools and malls in the central Philippines.

A magnitude-7.9 quake in the Celebes Sea off Mindanao in 1976 triggered a tsunami that left an estimated 6,000 people dead or missing.

Information from The Associated Press was added to this report.