Eight people were killed and 60 others were injured in a series of strong earthquakes that jolted the Philippines' northernmost province on Saturday, officials said.
The first quake struck 12 kilometres north-east of the island town of Itbayat in Batanes province, 695 kilometres north of the capital Manila, at 4:16 am (2016 GMT Friday), the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said.
More than three hours later, a 5.9-magnitude tremor hit 21 kilometres north-east from Itbayat, Phivolcs added.
Another earthquake, with a magnitude of 5.8, rocked the nearby town of Basco more than two hour after that, the institute said.
The first pre-dawn quake caused five of the casualties, who were buried in collapsed houses, according to the national civil defence office. Three more people were killed when they were hit by falling debris in the following tremors, the office added.
The earthquakes damaged many houses and structures, including a 131-year-old church, which were mostly made from cement and stone as protection from strong typhoons that pass through the province, said Roldan Esdicul, head of the provincial disaster relief agency.
Most of the town's population of nearly 3,000 people was evacuated to a public plaza to keep them out of their homes amid aftershocks, while the town's electricity was also cut off as a safety measure, Esdicul said.
‘It's safest for everyone to be outside of their houses,’ he told Manila radio station DZMM. ‘Most of those killed were sleeping and buried by their collapsed houses or hit by falling debris.’ The military has dispatched a plane from Manila to pick up emergency personnel and relief goods from nearby northern provinces to bring to Itbayat, which can only be accessed by boat.
‘We are waiting for the updated if it's safe to land because they are still experiencing aftershocks,’ said Ricardo Jalad, head of the national civil defence office.
The Philippines is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where about 90 per cent of the world's earthquakes strike.
The last major quake to hit the country was a 7.1-magnitude tremor that killed more than 220 people in the central Philippines in October 2013.
In July 1990, more than 2,400 people were killed on the northern island of Luzon in a 7.8-magnitude quake, one of the strongest tremors ever to hit the country.