LOON, Philippines >> The earthquake that struck the central Philippines and killed at least 144 people also dealt a serious blow to the region’s historical and religious legacy by heavily damaging a dozen or more churches, some of them hundreds of years old.
As rescuers reached some of the hardest hit areas today and the death toll from the quake a day earlier continued to rise, images of the wrecked religious buildings resonated across a nation where 80 percent of the population is Catholic.
The bell tower toppled from Cebu 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.
Other churches on the neighboring island of Bohol, epicenter of the quake and a popular tourist destination, were also damaged, some beyond repair, while the Bohol seaside town of Loon was a jumble of toppled houses, churches and other buildings.
"The heritage old churches are also very close to the hearts of the Boholanos," said Bohol Gov. Edgardo Chatto, using the term for residents of the island.
He said authorities would attempt to restore the historic churches, but some may never return to their former state.
"Every piece of the church should be left untouched so that restoration efforts can be easier," he said. "It may not be a total restoration, but closest to what it used to be before."
Tuesday was a national holiday in the Philippines, incidentally celebrating the Muslim feast of Eid ul Adha, which meant some of the most damaged structures, like schools and office buildings, were empty when the quake struck, which saved many lives.
"That is our only consolation," said Bohol’s provincial health officer Reymoses Cabagnot.