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The 1976 Moro Gulf earthquake and tsunami took place on August 16, 1976, near the islands of Mindanaomarker and Sulumarker, in the Philippinesmarker. Its magnitude was calculated as being as high as 8.0 on the moment magnitude scale. The epicenter was in the Celebes Seamarker between the islands of Mindanaomarker and Borneomarker. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center's preliminary magnitude was given as 8.0 on the Richter scale and as 7.9 by other sources. There were many aftershocks following the main earthquake. A major aftershock on August 17 (local date) had a magnitude of 6.8. It was proceeded by at least fifteen smaller aftershocks. According to reports, the earthquake was recorded around 16:10 UTC.


The initial earthquake was widespread and was felt as far as the central Philippine islands of the Visayasmarker. A massive tsunami devastated 700 kilometers of coastline bordering the Moro Gulf in the North Celebes Seamarker, resulting in destruction and death in the coastal communities of the Sulumarker Archipelago and southern Mindanaomarker, including Zamboanga Citymarker and Pagadian Citymarker. At least 5,000 people died during the earthquake and tsunami, with thousands more remaining missing. Some reports say that as many as 8,000 people lost their lives in total, with ninety percent of all deaths the result of the following tsunami.

Initially over 8,000 people were officially counted as killed or missing, 10,000 injured, and 90,000 homeless, making the 1976 Moro Earthquake and Tsunami one of the most devastating disasters in the history of the Philippine Islandsmarker. After the initial earthquake the people were unaware of the need to move to higher ground; when the tsunami hit it sucked most of the victims out to sea. Based on the investigation on the affected region it was confirmed that the waves reached up to 4.0 to 5.0 meters (14-15 feet) when they hit the areas. There were reports of weak tsunami activity as far as Japanmarker.



The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) in Honolulumarker issued a Tsunami Watch for the Pacificmarker and queried tide gauge stations in Okinawamarker, Yapmarker and Malakalmarker. Based on negative reports from these stations, the watch was cancelled. Unfortunately, minutes after the earthquake, a large local tsunami struck the region. There was no time to issue a local warning.

Aid response

The Philippine Government sent out aid and support as soon as news reached Manilamarker. Later a team of US and Filipino geologists and officials surveyed the disaster zone with the help of the Philippine Air Force. The objective of the survey was to obtain measurements of the tsunami wave heights, extent of inundation and gather additional information on the earthquake and the tsunami and its effects in the region.


The earthquake occurred at night, when offices and schools in Cotabatomarker, Zamboangamarker and other cities were unoccupied, therefore the loss of life was greatly reduced. Pagadianmarker, on the other hand, was the only city hardest hit by the tsunami that followed. Although the earthquake had a large magnitude, surprisingly, it produced little ground deformation on land areas. However, there was extensive earthquake damage to buildings, bridges and roads in Mindanao and particularly at the city of Cotobato.

Tectonic summary

Several fault zones in the region are capable of producing major earthquakes and destructive local tsunamis. The two major fault zones that are most dangerous are the Sulu Trench in the Sulu Seamarker and the Cotabato Trench, a region of subduction that crosses the Celebes Seamarker and the Moro Gulf in Southern Mindanaomarker. According to the PHIVOLCS historical catalog of earthquakes for the last 100 years, this region of the southern Philippines is characterized by moderate to high seismicity. The most recent earthquake along the Cotabato Trench region of subduction being the March 6, 2002 earthquake in Southern Mindanao.


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