The powerful 7.1 magnitude quake struck the northern island of Luzon, sending strong tremors through the capital, Manila.
Among the dead was a 25-year-old man who was killed by falling debris, local authorities said. Dramatic footage shows people running for safety as the centuries old Bantay Bell Tower crumbling after Abra province was hit.
Other buildings have partially collapsed, including a hospital, which was left with a gaping hole in the front entrance facade. Other photos showed hospital beds, including one with a patient, wheeled across the road and evacuated hospital staff.
Renato Solidum, director of the state seismology agency, told DZRH radio station, said strong aftershocks were expected.
“The focus of attention is on Abra and nearby provinces. This is a major earthquake,” he said.
Mr Solidum added that landslides had been reported in some parts of Abra, particularly in the town of Manabo. Abra, home to nearly 250,000 people, is a landlocked province in the northern Philippines. Its deep valleys and sloping hills are enclosed by rugged mountains.
Eric Singson, a congressman in Ilocos Sur province, also in the north, told DZMM that the quake lasted 30 seconds or more where he was, adding: “I thought my house would fall.”
He added, “Now, we are trying to reach people …. Right now, there are aftershocks so we are outside our home.”
The quake was also felt in Manila where several buildings were evacuated, with some people forced to flee from the 30th floor of one building, and the city’s metro rail systems were halted at rush hour.
The Philippines is prone to natural disasters and is located on the seismically active Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, a band of volcanoes and fault lines that arcs round the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
- A Reuters / AP/ AFP report