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Philippine president visits quake-hit area as residents shelter outside

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By Neil Jerome Morales and ADRIAN PORTUGAL

BANGUED, Philippines (Reuters) -Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos promised on Thursday to help rebuild homes damaged by a powerful earthquake on the island of Luzon, as terrified residents camped out in parks and on sidewalks after hundreds of aftershocks rattled the area.

The 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the northern Philippine island on Wednesday morning, killing at least five people and injuring more than 130.

The quake also damaged scores of houses and other buildings, including centuries-old churches in the tourist town of Vigan.

"For the affected and victims, let us make sure we are ready to support them and give them all they need," Marcos told officials after being briefed during to a trip to inspect the damage.

The streets of Vigan, known for its old Spanish colonial architecture, have been cleared of debris, but shops, hotels and businesses remained closed.

Elma Sia, 52, who works at restaurant recalled the fear of being caught up in such a powerful earthquake.

"Everything was moving, our plates were breaking, our lights swaying. We were terrified," she told Reuters.

"I could hear people shouting from a nearby McDonald's restaurant, so people rushed outside to the plaza and started crying out of fear," she said.

The quake, which hit close to the Marcos family's political stronghold, also left a trail of destruction in Bangued town in Abra province, which was just 11 km (6.8 miles) from the epicentre.

Residents camped out with their families in shelters because they were too scared to stay at home. Seismologists have recorded nearly 800 aftershocks since the main quake.

"We were so scared," Erlinda Bisares told CNN Philippines. "We didn't mind our belongings, we just hurried outside. Life is more important."

The Philippines is prone to natural disasters and is located on the seismically active Pacific "Ring of Fire", a band of volcanoes and fault lines that arcs round the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Earthquakes are frequent and there are an average of 20 typhoons a year, some triggering deadly landslides.

Public Works Secretary Manuel Bonoan told DZBB radio his agency had started to remove debris from main roads in Abra and other districts affected by rockslides during the quake.

But efforts to assess damage to irrigation works were hampered as some roads had yet to be cleared of boulders, the National Irrigation Administration said.

Northern Luzon provinces are among the country's biggest growers of rice and vegetables.

Ricardo Jalad, administrator of the Office of the Civil Defense, told radio station DZRH some parts of Abra were still without power or water and experiencing communication outages.

The budget ministry said authorities were ready to release funds for disaster relief.

(Reporting by Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales in Manila, and Adrian Portugal in ViganEditing by Ed Davies, Robert Birsel)