Mark Navales and Dennis Jay Santos
A landslide buried more than 20 houses and left at least a dozen people dead and scores missing in the central Philippines on Thursday, officials said, as search-and-rescue teams kept digging through an avalanche of mud that hit a northern mining community.
The side of a mountain at a quarry site in the city of Naga in Cebu province gave way after two days of incessant rain, burying houses that belonged to a community of informal settlers, said Supt. Samuel Tadeo, chief of the Philippine Bureau of Fire Protection’s rescue unit.
“More than 20 to 25 houses were buried here,” Tadeo said, adding intermittent rains were hampering search efforts.
Rescuers had earlier evacuated residents in the area before Typhoon Mangkhut slammed the country’s northern region on Saturday, leaving a trail of destruction.
So far, the death toll from Mangkhut – locally known as Ompong – has reached 81 victims, excluding the new casualties from Naga. Sixty-six were recorded in the northern Cordillera mountain range, which includes the town of Itogon, where a landslide buried the local mining community under tons of debris. Fifteen others were killed in Manila and elsewhere.
The toll is expected to rise as rescuers in the mountainous area of Itogon were persevering with digging in search of survivors or the bodies of more victims.
The focus of the search operation, however, shifted to Naga on Thursday, where a saturated portion of a mountain collapsed on houses built out of light materials.
Tadeo described the operations in the area as dangerous, with rescuers having requested heavy equipment such as a backhoe to help in the effort.
Gerry Cabotaje, a local official designated as spokesman for the rescue effort in Naga, said the toll as of Thursday afternoon had reached 12, with eight others rescued. About 50 to 60 people were believed to be missing.
“The search-and-retrieval operations are continuing,” Cabotaje said, describing the land that gave way as private property owned by Apo Land and Quarry Corp.
The Philippine environment department’s mines and geosciences bureau had inspected the area in August and found cracks in the slopes, local officials said.
Chito Maniago, an Apo Land spokesman, told local television stations the firm had yet to begin its quarry operations at the site that collapsed.
The mines bureau had informed the quarry company of the crack, but Apo Land had earlier told people there to leave, he said.
Governmental review ordered
In Itogon, on northern Luzon island, rescuers believe that up to 60 people who had sought shelter in an old mining bunker and a church were buried there.
As search-and-retrieval operations continued in separate areas, the government was contemplating repealing a law that liberalized the mining industry.
“We have a problem with the mining industry. It has not contributed anything substantial to the national economy,” President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday. “That mining thing has really contributed a lot of heartaches for the Filipino people.”
Reacting to Duterte’s order, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu earlier this week ordered a review of all applications for the state-run People’s Small-Scale Mining Areas, or sites across the country that allow independent miners to operate under strict governmental oversight.
The bureau would be stricter in granting licenses and approving small-scale mining sites, he said.
Duterte also directed the bureau to provide safe shelters for the small-scale miners and their families. Their homes should be “far enough from identified geo-hazard areas,” Cimatu 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.
Cimatu had ordered the revocation of all the temporary contracts in the wake of the Itogon disaster and called for an immediate stop to all small-scale mining operations in the northern region.
Karl Romano, in Dagupan City, Philippines contributed to this report.
- Copyright ©2017, BenarNews. Used with the permission of BenarNews.