By Jeoffrey Maitem and Froilan Gallardo
Rescuers retrieved more bodies from the rubble of two landslides that devastated two towns in the Philippines, raising the death toll to at least 96, with dozens still listed as missing, officials said Monday.
In what is shaping up as the country’s worst disaster for the year, authorities said 51 bodies have been pulled out from the rubble in a landslide that hit a quarry site in central city of Naga, which collapsed on Sept. 20. As many as 40 other people are believed missing.
In the mountainous northern town of Itogon, where a side of the ridge slammed onto an old mining community, rescuers have pulled out 45 bodies so far, officials said.
The two landslides occurred last week after typhoon Mangkhut unleashed heavy rains and barreled through the nation with winds of 170 kph (105 mph) and 260 kph (160 mph) gusts.
Baltazar Tribunalo, Provincial Disaster Management chief in Naga, told reporters a “life detector device” inserted into the ground indicated that there could be signs of life.
“There may be people at least 45 meters down there. Those are the areas, we can find ways for the retrieval forces to enter,” Tribunalo said.
“We are still hopeful, especially to everyone involved, those from Naga and to the Filipinos. We still hope we can find someone alive tonight or tomorrow,” he said.
Last month, the Philippine environment department’s mines and geosciences bureau inspected the area and found cracks in the slopes in the Naga quarry site. But officials from the firm blamed for the tragedy said they had not begun quarry operations at the site that collapsed.
“I can confirm that we do not have an active quarry site. Last time there was activity there was in 2005,” said Chito Maniago, spokesman of Apo Land and Quarry Corp.
Presidential adviser Francis Tolentino said search-and-rescue teams in Itogon were trying to pull victims from the rubble. He said that while the old mine tunnels had all been closed, people were actually living in the area.
“In this particular area, they would rather stay at that place. They went there as workers. Not just the gold mine, but looking for alternative source of livelihood and they prefer to stay there,” he said.
Most of those who died were miners from out of town, he said.
Tolentino said local officials of Itogon, led by its mayor, Victorio Palangdan, could be held liable for the tragedy.
“When it comes to human life, the frontliner is the local chief executive. Even though there may be finger-pointing … the mayor is answerable to them,” he said.
Up to 10 associations of small-scale miners had been granted temporary mining contracts in Itogon, where the mines were once controlled by Benguet Corp.
Authorities ordered the revocation of all the temporary contracts in the wake of the disaster and called for an immediate stop to all small-scale mining operations in the northern region.
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