At least 74 people have died after a powerful earthquake measuring 7.2 struck islands popular with tourists in the Philippines.

Some 65 people died in collapsed structures and landslides on the island of Bohol, about 630km south of the capital.

Nine others died in Cebu and another on Siquijor island, according to Rey Balido, spokesman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

Nearly 300 were wounded on Cebu and Bohol islands. The death toll is expected to rise.

A state of calamity has been declared in Bohol and Cebu provinces.

The earthquake sparked panic, cut power and transport links and forced hospitals to evacuate patients.

Low-rise buildings collapsed on at least two islands and historic churches cracked and crumbled.

Bridges collapsed and roads cracked, with many declared impassable due to landslides.

President Benigno Aquino said he would visit earthquake-damaged areas tomorrow.

"Many of the structures there are old," he told reporters.

Renato Solidum, head of the state seismology agency, said the magnitude 7.2 tremor had struck near Carmen town on Bohol island at 8.12am (1.12am Irish time).

"A magnitude 7 earthquake has energy equivalent to around 32 Hiroshima atomic bombs.

"Compared to the 2010 Haiti earthquake that had a magnitude of 7.0, this one had a magnitude of 7.2, slightly stronger," he told a news conference.

The volcanology agency said it was measured at a depth of about 56km.