The earthquake's epicenter was about 32 miles deep near the town of Carmen on the island of Bohol, said Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.
"A magnitude-seven earthquake has an energy equivalent to around 32 Hiroshima atomic bombs," Mr. Solidum said. "This one had a magnitude of 7.2."
The earthquake destroyed buildings, cracked highways, collapsed bridges, prompted evacuations and forced several airports on the affected islands to close while inspectors ensured they were safe, The New York Times reported.
The damaged structures in Cebu City included the Santo Nino de Cebu Basilica, founded in 1565. On Bohol, the roof of the Church of San Pedro in Loboc, which dates to 1602, collapsed.
Officials said up to 10 other historic churches seemed to have been damaged, the Times said.
Officials were warning local residents to keep out of major buildings until their structural integrity could be determined. They also warned of landslides amid reports more than 100 aftershocks on Bohol and Cebu islands, the two islands most affected by the quake.
Power was disrupted in many of the affected areas, the Times said.
No tsunami warning was issued because the earthquake was land-based, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said.
Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III will visit the affected areas on Wednesday, his office said.
Cebu and Bohol islands were declared states of calamity. The declarations authorize additional national government assistance to the areas.
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