The earthquake was centered about 32 miles underground near the small town of Carmen, on the island of Bohol, and struck at 8:12 a.m., said Renato Solidum, the 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 tremors reverberated across adjacent islands of the central Philippines, toppling structures and sending panicked people into the streets.
“I was asleep and my bed started shaking very hard,” said Jessa Ariola, a 23-year-old resident of Tagbilaran, a city near the earthquake’s center. She said that after the tremors stopped she went to the restaurant where she works as a cashier and found it in ruins — with broken glass, toppled appliances and raw meat scattered on the floor.
Local television showed obliterated buildings, cracked roads, downed bridges and chaotic evacuations on Bohol. The quake also damaged major buildings in Cebu City, a heavily populated commercial center on a nearby island. Among those hit were a sprawling shopping mall, a prominent hospital and a busy public market.
The main airport on Bohol was temporarily closed, as were several ports in the central Philippines, while officials inspected them for safety.
The damaged structures in Cebu included the Santo Niño de Cebu Basilica, which was founded in 1565. On Bohol, the roof of the Church of San Pedro in Loboc, which dates to 1602, collapsed. Officials said as many as 10 other historic churches appeared to have been damaged.
The earthquake killed at least 32 people, with 16 having died on the island of Bohol, 15 in nearby Cebu and one on the neighboring island of Siquijor, according to a statement from the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council. The island of Cebu, which is adjacent to Bohol, where the earthquake was centered, experienced extensive damage and injuries because it is heavily populated, officials said.
People killed included a 4-year-old girl who was trampled in the town of Toledo, on Cebu island, when the earthquake shook a building where people were receiving cash grants from a government program to help the poor. In addition to the child who died, 19 people were injured there during a stampede out of the wobbling structure.
Officials on Tuesday afternoon were warning local residents to keep out of major buildings until their structural integrity could be verified. They also warned of landslides amid reports of aftershocks on the two most affected islands.
Electric power was disrupted in many of the affected areas. No tsunami warning was issued because the earthquake was land-based, an official of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said during a morning news briefing.
President Benigno S. Aquino III will visit the affected areas on Wednesday, a spokesman said. The islands of Cebu and Bohol have been declared in a state of calamity by the government, which authorizes additional national government assistance to the areas.
A 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck the same island on Feb. 8, 1990, and damaged more than 3,000 houses. Last year, a 6.9-magnitude quake hit near the island of Negros, also in the central Philippines, and killed nearly 100 people.