The 6.8-magnitude quake, in a narrow strait just off Negros Island, caused a landslide in Guihulngan, a city of about 180,000 people in Negros Oriental province. As many as 30 houses were buried and at least 29 people were missing, Mayor Ernesto Reyes said.
Reyes said that four people died there, including a student at a college and two others in an elementary school. Another person died in the collapse of a town market.
The quake, which hit at 11-49 a.m. (3-49 a.m. GMT), triggered another landslide in the mountain village of Solongon in La Libertad town and also in Negros Oriental. An unknown number of people were trapped, said La Libertad police chief inspector Eric Arrol Besario.
“We’re now getting shovels and chain saws to start a rescue because there were people trapped inside. Some of them were yelling for help earlier,” Besario told The Associated Press by phone. Three key bridges in the town suffered cracks and were no longer passable, he said.
Philippine seismologists briefly issued a tsunami alert for the central islands. Five bamboo and wooden cottages were washed out from a beach resort in La Libertad by huge waves, but there were no reports of injuries, said police Superintendent Ernesto Tagle. Elsewhere, along the coast, people rushed out of schools, malls and offices.
The epicenter was closest to Tayasan, a coastal town of about 32,000 people flanked by mountains in Negros Oriental province. A child there died when a concrete fence of a house collapsed, said Benito Ramos, head of the Office of Civil Defense.
“So far one dead, but we could not yet account for the damage to buildings,” Tayasan police officer Alfred Vicente Silvosa told The AP by phone. He said there were still aftershocks “so we are outside, at the town plaza. We cannot inspect buildings yet because it’s dangerous.”
“I felt the building shaking, so I rushed out of the building. Our computers, shelves, plates, the cupboards, water dispenser all fell,” he said.
A three-story office building also collapsed in La Libertad, but occupants managed to run out.
Negros Oriental police chief Edward Carranza said the temblor damaged many houses in Guihulngan and he ordered his men to help displaced residents find shelter.
Officials in some areas suspended work and canceled classes. Power and telecommunications were knocked out in several places.
Carranza said police rushed out of his building when the quake struck. “All my personnel ran out fearing our building would collapse,” he said.
“Now it’s shaking again,” he said as an aftershock hit. “My keychain is dancing.”
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered 44 miles (72 kilometers) north of Dumaguete city on Negros and hit at a depth of 29 miles (46 kilometers). The area is about 400 miles (650 kilometers) southeast of the capital, Manila.
President Benigno Aquino III’s spokesman said authorities did not force people to evacuate but implored those along the shore to be vigilant. The coast guard grounded all vessels while the tsunami alert was in effect.
A mall in San Carlos city in neighboring Negros Occidental province was damaged when its windows were shattered by the shaking, said Ramos, the civil defense leader. The quake was also felt in Cebu, where it lasted about 30 seconds.
The Philippines is located in the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common. A 7.7-magnitude quake killed nearly 2,000 people in Luzon in 1990