By Karl Romano
Search operations for more bodies buried under tons of debris are to be called off in the northern and central Philippines because excavation efforts at landslide sites have become too dangerous, the disaster relief agency said Wednesday.
The official death toll has reached 79 people in the northern mining town of Itogon, according to the updated figure from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
The number of missing is officially listed at two, although residents said as more than two dozen people could have been buried as well.
In the central Philippine town of Naga, meanwhile, the council said search teams have recovered 77 bodies from an old quarry site that was buried when a mountainside collapsed while 55 others are missing and believed dead.
The landslides occurred after Typhoon Mangkhut barreled into the country and dumped heavy rain over a wide swathe more than two weeks ago. The typhoon was the most powerful storm to hit the archipelago since 2013, when Supertyphoon Haiyan cut across the country, killing thousands.
“One of the bases for termination of SRR operations … as reported from the ground is that as the days go by, chances of finding life is less likely,” the NDRRMC said in a statement, referring to “search, rescue and retrieval” operations.
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau carried out a technical assessment of the excavation efforts and had come to the conclusion that the search effort are untenable and very dangerous, the agency said.
“Continuing the SRR operations will endanger the lives of the personnel of the SRR due to the high exposure to risks in performing the work assignment of excavating under the landslide areas,” it said.
It said the mines bureau also reported the Itogon area remained situated in a critical zone that needs to be isolated and secured.
The decision comes just as another typhoon, Kong-rey, was spotted about 795 km (494 miles) east of the Philippines. The typhoon was not expected to hit the country directly, but is likely to veer northward toward Taiwan by the weekend.
Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.
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