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Filipinos rebuild amid further quake fears

GENERAL MACARTHUR, Philippines -- Families returned to their quake-devastated homes in the central Philippines Sunday, ignoring government warnings to relocate away from danger zones.

Men, women and children picked through the debris in the quiet fishing town of General MacArthur looking for materials to salvage from their splintered wooden houses.

The area faces the Pacific Ocean on the country's eastern seaboard, where a 7.6-magnitude offshore quake struck Friday, triggering a tsunami alert that forced over 130,000 people to flee.

“We thank the Lord that no big waves came, but still, the earthquake destroyed our home,” said Rosel Aruera, a 20-year-old mother of two, as she surveyed the remains of her home.

“It was so strong we were thrown off our bed and minutes later our floor and walls crumbled.”

Hers was among 80 seaside homes built on stilts using cement and wood, common structures in many coastal areas across the Philippines.

“We have nowhere else to go, that is why we are trying to rebuild here,” she said.

Village chief Amador Evallo said the local government had repeatedly warned people to relocate to safer areas inland.

“All of their houses have been destroyed, and now they are trying to rebuild on the same spot. But what happens when another earthquake or tsunami comes?” he said. “That would be a nightmare.”

The quake, which triggered landslides in which one woman died, also sparked tsunami warnings as far away as Indonesia, Japan and Papua New Guinea.

Waves of up to half a meter (20 inches) hit parts of the Philippines' eastern coast but were not high enough to cause any damage.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) in Manila said most of the homes destroyed were those made of light materials, while overall damage to infrastructure remained minimal.

But NDRRMC chief Benito Ramos said the quake served as another reminder for many local governments to improve disaster preparedness and relocate entire villages away from danger zones.

“We are lucky this time. But we can't count on luck all the time,” he said. “We also understand that politically it is easier to say they will relocate communities, but it is more difficult to implement.”

The Philippines is one of the most disaster prone countries in the world, with an average of 20 typhoons battering the island nation every year.

It also sits on the Pacific Rim of Fire — a belt around the Pacific Ocean dotted by active volcanoes and unstable ocean trenches.

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A resident walks through a wooden bridge near damaged homes in the town of General MacArthur, eastern Samar province in the central Philippines, Sunday, Sept. 2. The area was hit by a 7.6-magnitude quake on Friday, Aug. 31. (AFP)

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