Philippines

Threat of Infection Grows at Manila Garbage Site

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By Roli Ng

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine rescue workers called for extra chemicals and protective gear on Wednesday to ward off disease as they plucked more corpses from the ruins of a Manila shantytown buried under tons of garbage.

Two days after the mountain of rubbish collapsed and crushed houses in a squatters colony called the Promised Land, at least 115 bodies had been recovered with about 100 other people missing and feared dead, relief agencies said.

''What we need now are body bags, gallons of Lysol, extra gloves, face masks and bags of lime,'' Lieutenant Fausto Tapiador said in a radio interview. ''We need the chemicals to protect the rescue teams from infection.

Rescue teams have been working since Monday morning in the garbage dump, plunged knee-deep into a toxic mixture of rain-sodden trash and mud.

Bodies trapped in the dump have begun to decompose and the smell of death was stronger than the stink of the garbage, some workers said.

Despite the odor and the rescue work, rubbish trucks continued to tip their loads on the far side of the 25-acre dump and scavengers sifted through the trash.

One of the early birds at the dump was a nine-year-old boy named Jomar who hiked up the mountain carrying a metal hook and a sack to carry what he could salvage from the rubbish heap.

''We need the money for our electric bills and for my schooling,'' Jomar told Reuters. ''Someday, I want to be a taxi driver.''

Slim Chance Of Life Beneath

Defense officials said they believed about 100 people were still trapped in the ruins. The Office of Civil Defense estimated the number of those buried in the hundreds.

Military task force commander Colonel Jaime Canatoy said there was still a slight chance of finding survivors.


''It is already the third day and the chances are small that people are still alive but this morning we found a live rooster under the heap of garbage... So maybe there are still people alive there,'' Canatoy told Reuters.

Officials said they were having difficulty fixing the exact number of missing because no census had been done in the area and local officials had no idea how many people lived in the section of the shantytown destroyed by the avalanche.

They said more than 200 shacks -- some no bigger than push carts -- were believed crushed to bits and they were not sure all of them were occupied at the time.

''It's a mobile, moving population,'' Mayor Mel Mathay said.

The dumpsite -- called Lupang Pangako (Promised Land) -- has been the home for two decades of about 80,000 slum-dwellers, a grim symbol of the widespread poverty in the mainly Roman Catholic nation.

About 80 percent of them hike up to the rubbish mountain daily to forage for odd items, from plastic containers and wall frames to broken appliances and smashed toys, which they sell to junk shops. They earn about 200 pesos ($4.50) each a day.

About a tenth of the mountain collapsed on Monday after five days of pounding by typhoon Kai-Tak.

At the ruins of the shantytown, housewife Clarita Garduque sobbed her heart out.

''All my seven children are still buried here... Up to now they have not found them,'' she wailed.

''We used to live elsewhere but the mayor relocated us to this place. I did not know he would bury my children here.''

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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