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The death toll from an earthquake in the central Philippines rose to 144 on Wednesday as rescuers dug through the rubble of collapsed buildings, including houses and historic churches. The number of injured rose toward 300, with at least 23 people still missing in the hours since the earthquake struck on Tuesday.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said at least 134 of the deaths were on Bohol Island, a popular tourist area that took the brunt of the 7.2 magnitude quake.
A day after the quake, Bohol's governor said all towns in need had been reached, although landslides and damaged bridges were slowing down road travel. A military spokesman said the air force was flying about 25,000 pounds of relief supplies to residents of the island, which is located 390 miles south of the capital, Manila.
Officials feared the death toll would rise as communications with damaged villages were re-established. Mobile phone links from the country's main provider had been restored, but a rival provider still had to fix some of its damaged equipment, a state telecommunications official said.
Doctors at a hospital on Bohol Island said they were having difficulties treating all patients due to the sudden influx from the earthquake.
Many of the millions hit by the quake — including patients at some hospitals — spent the night outdoors because of aftershocks. More than 840 aftershocks have been recorded, with one of magnitude 5.1, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said.
"There are so many aftershocks, we are afraid," Elena Manuel, a 64-year-old grandmother, told Reuters after her family and neighbors spent the night on the grounds of a centuries-old church that collapsed in Loon, a Bohol Island town of about 43,000 people.
"We don't have any more food and water because stores are closed, and the bridge ... is damaged," she said. "After the quake, water and mud came out of cracks on the ground in our backyard."
Patrick Fuller, from the Red Cross, told Al Jazeera that authorities were responding efficiently to the crisis but that there was much work to be done.
"It will be a long road to recovery, because so many people have lost their homes," he said.
Seventeen churches suffered irreparable damage to their old coral-stone structures.
Emilia Dalagan was sweeping grass outside her home near the Our Lady of the Assumption Shrine, a 300-year-old church in Dauis on the resort island of Panglao, Bohol province, when the ground shook. The back, front and right wing of the church were destroyed.
"Yesterday, when I saw (the damage to the church) for the first time, I was really crying," said Dalagan. "I really wasn't expecting it. That this earthquake will cause such damage."
In Cebu city, located across the Cebu Strait from Bohol Island, a bell tower toppled from the city's 16th-century Basilica of the Holy Child — a remnant of the Spanish colonial era and the country's oldest church building — becoming a pile of rubble in the courtyard by the front gate.
Ferry and airline services have resumed despite damage to ports and airports in Bohol and Cebu, where the government has declared a state of calamity, triggering a freeze on prices.
President Benigno Aquino, who made an inspection by air of quake-hit areas, warned of stiff penalties for profiteers exploiting the disaster.
Some visitors to Bohol have canceled reservations, but the damage to tourism was likely to be short-lived, said John Patrick Chan, corporate general manager of the Bellevue Hotel group, in a television interview.
"We expect things to go back to normal soon," said Chan. "We're lucky the earthquake hasn't damaged much, much more."
Al Jazeera and wire services
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