MANILA (UPI) -- Pre-dawn earthquakes struck this city of 3 million today, smashing five large buildings, cracking thousands more and jamming hospitals with casualties.
Mayor Antonio Villegas said he counted seven dead but Police Lt. Santos Capistrano said the Philippines' largest city's worst quakes in "several decades" killed at least 200 persons.
A UPI check of Manila hospitals plus other sources showed 16 persons known dead.
A year old, five story apartment house, the Ruby Tower housing 600 to 1,000 persons, collapsed as if a "big hand pressed it down," said witness George You, 28. Street lights blacked out. You said he could see nothing but could hear the screaming of victims caught among the 14-inch thick slabs of broken concrete.
Hundreds of injured persons overflowed hospital wards. They filled the hallways. No Americans were reported among the casualties.
In a hotel, nurse Genelle Mantz of Evanston, Ill., "got my flashlight, my passport and my money" when she saw the tiles peeling off the bathroom wall.
"We went out into the park because we didn't know if the next quake would bring down the building. There were two very elderly ladies who you would have thought would panic but they took it all calmly. I think the men were more nervous than the women," nurse Mantz said.
The first shock hit at 4:22 a.m., knocking down part of City Jail. Guards lost no inmates. Twenty minutes later a lesser but still wall-cracking shock struck. Weather officials measured the big shock at six on the Rossi-Forel scale of 10 and said, hopefully, they saw no sign of a tidal wave coming.
The Manila Weather Bureau said the quakes centered 175 miles northeast of here rumbling up along Luzon island's mountains. But government officials said damage centered in Manila. The worst came in Dorotea Jose Street where the Ruby Tower fell.
UPI correspondent Robert Ibrahim said young men clawed at the wreckage, tossing aside broken television sets and naked dolls in search of victims. Later bulldozers and cranes helped. The mayor said he counted up to 35 persons brought, somehow, safely out of the wreck of the Ruby Tower.
Priests in white vestments climbed over the wreckage, giving last rites of the Roman Catholic church to victims.
In the harbor area, a pier caught fire and burned what customs officials said was $500,000 in goods from America and Europe.
President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife broadcast to the city, appealing for calm.