Manila: Thousands of villagers who fled their coastal homes during a powerful earthquake in the central Philippines have returned home, but hundreds more still jittery from the temblor remained in evacuation centers on Saturday, officials said.
The magnitude-7.6 quake struck off the Philippines' eastern coast late on Friday, killing one person in a house collapse, knocking out power in several towns and spurring panic about a tsunami that ended up generating only tiny waves.
The quake hit at a depth of 34.9 kilometers (21.7 miles) and was centered 106 kilometers (66 miles) east of Samar Island, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
No large tsunamis were generated by the quake and it caused only minor damage, including cracks on buildings and several bridges, Civil Defense chief Benito Ramos.
About 140 aftershocks have been recorded, including two with a magnitude of 6.4, said Renato Solidum, chief of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.
Panicked residents in Samar's coastal towns headed for high ground and nearby hills, Ramos said. "Some rested under tall trees they planned to climb if tsunami waves reached them. That was instinct," he said.
He said hundreds of "nervous" villages remained in evacuation centers in Eastern Samar province but were expected to return home later on Saturday.
A house collapsed in southern Cagayan de Oro city, on the main southern island of Mindanao, killing a 54-year-old woman and injuring her 5-year-old grandson, who was being treated in a hospital, said the city's mayor, Vicente Emano.
Neighbours said the woman ran out of the house as the ground shook. She immediately returned home after hearing her grandson's cries, but was unable to escape when her house collapsed.
Solidum said the biggest wave that came ashore on Siargao Island southeast of Samar was less than half a meter (20 inches) high.
The quake snapped some power lines in Tandag City in Surigao del Sur province on the eastern coast of Mindanao, where recent tsunami drills were held.
More than 6,000 city residents immediately headed for the provincial capitol grounds on a hill, occupying the streets and sleeping on the pavement and grass, disaster officials said. Most trickled back home before dawn Saturday.
The quake set off car alarms, shook items off shelves and sent many coastal residents fleeing before the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center lifted all tsunami alerts it had issued for the Philippines and neighbouring countries from Indonesia to Japan, and for Pacific islands as far away as the Northern Marianas.
"It was very strong. My house was making sounds," Bem Noel, a member of the Philippine House of Representatives, said in a telephone interview from Tacloban city on the eastern coast of Leyte island near Samar.
"You talk to God with an earthquake that strong," he said.
Tacloban resident Digna Marco said that the quake toppled a figurine on top of her TV set and that her son had to hold their desktop computer to prevent it from falling to the floor. The lights over her dining room were swinging, she said.
"My neighbours and I have evacuated. We are now on our way to the mountains," fisherman Marlon Lagramado said before the tsunami warnings were lifted, in a telephone interview from the coastal town of Eastern Samar's Guiuan township.
The Philippine archipelago is located in the Pacific "Ring of Fire," where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common. A magnitude-7.7 quake killed nearly 2,000 people in northern Luzon Island in 1990.