3 dead, 22 missing in Compostela Valley landslide

By Claire Cornelio, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 22 2011 12:38 PM | Updated as of Apr 23 2011 08:20 PM

PANTUKAN, Compostela Valley (7th UPDATE) - At least three people were killed, six were injured and 22 others are missing after a landslide hit a small-scale mining community in the municipality of Pantukan, Compostela Valley province on Friday.

Search and rescue operations for the missing persons will continue through the night, Pantukan Mayor Celso Sarenas told ABS-CBN News.

As of 11 p.m., the National Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Council (NDRRMC) declared 3 fatalities, 8 injured survivors and 22 missing.

The report by NRMMC identified one of the fatalities as Jun Rex Torrejos, 15 and a resident of La Filipina, Tagum City. The 2 others remain unidentified.

Listed as injured were:
1. Lambert Detros, Matio, Pantukan
2. Zeffrey Tunday, Matio, Pantukan
3. Jerry Costal, Lasang, Davao City
4. Mike Saret, Asuncion, Davao del Norte
5. Erwin Galorio, Island Garden, City of Samal
6. Rico Clase, Caraga, Davao Oriental
7. Rebecca, Recaplaza, Pantukan
8. Nicolas Recaplaza, Pantukan

Those listed as missing were:
1. Bernard Celestial, Pantukan
2. Bobit Celestial, Pantukan
3. Crititoto Torrejos Jr., Tagum City
4. Crititoto Torrejos Sr., Tagum City
5. John Torrejos, Tagum City
6. Denis, Tagum City
7. Andy Lapates, Bukidnon
8. Junel Lapates, Bukidnon
9. Vincent Lapates, Bukidnon
10. Jerico, Bukidnon
11. Alvin Canincoy, Bukidnon
12. Noe Canincoy, Bukidnon
13. Bitoy, Davao City
14. Jong Jong, Lasang
15. Jun Jun, Lasang
16. Erning, Samal
17. Jay Omega, Maco
18. Roberto Inay, Leyte
19. Marlon Guilabtan, Panabo
20. Brendo Dani, Panabo
21. Relleto Tabay, Panabo
22. Marvin Anglay, Panabo

Three bodies had been found by Friday afternoon while 10 people had been pulled from the debris alive, according to Sarenas.

"There are at least 21 still unaccounted for. We do not know if they are dead or alive. They might have been buried," Sarenas told AFP by telephone.

Missing count lowered

The military earlier said as many as 40 or 50 people were missing, but Sarenas said the lower figure of 21 was more accurate as it was based on a roll call of people living in the area.

However, Seranas said the exact number could not be known for certain, as transient miners may have arrived at the site just before the landslide without registering with authorities.

Sarenas said as many as 500 people had been living on the mountain slope before the disaster, most of them poor, small-scale miners who had defied repeated government warnings to leave the extremely dangerous area.

"They are hard-headed. They told me, they would rather die from a landslide than die from hunger," he said.

"They want to get rich no matter how dangerous their tunnelling is."

Nevertheless, Sarenas said many of the people living on the slope had temporarily left in recent days because of fears the rains would trigger a landslide, preventing a much higher death toll.

Injured brought to hospitals

Among those seriously injured is purok chairperson Rebecca Recaplaza. As of posting time, she was in the Intensive Care Unit of the Davao Regional Hospital in Tagum City.

Three others injured remained at the Pantukan hospital while a fourth one who was brought to the same hospital was allowed to go home already.

The others suffered only minor bruises, Sarenas said.

Soldiers from the 71st Infantry Battalion, members of the Philippine National Police, rescue workers from 911 Davao City and the St. Augustine Gold & Copper, as well as volunteer small-scale miners, aided by heavy equipment, will continue to search for the missing persons throughout the night. 

The search and rescue effort was temporarily halted on Friday afternoon when it started to rain in the area, raising fears of another landslide.

Triggered by heavy rains

Office of Civil Defense-Region 11 Director Liza Mazo said the landslide was caused by heavy overnight rains.

“It's been raining hard since last night here, causing a high-risk landslide area to give in, burying houses below,” Mazo said.

The landslide happened at around 2:30 a.m. at Purok Side B, Sitio Panganason, Barangay Kingking.

Col. Roberto Domines, commander of the 1001st Brigade, 10th Infantry Division, told ANC on Friday noon that around 40 people were believed to be missing.

He had said there was no confirmed number of missing persons since many of the small-scale miners are transients.

Even the municipal government of Pantukan does not know how many people live in the affected area, Domines said.

Search and rescue operations

Three Air Force helicopters were sent to transport survivors, rescuers and light equipment.

Domines said 3 platoons of regular soldiers plus a Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) has been posted in the affected area.

Domines said people from the community, the municipal government of Pantukan, the provincial government of Compostela, as well as mining companies which used to operate in the area were also assisting in the effort.

He welcomed offers to help, saying they need more heavy equipment to dig through the rubble.

The area hit by the landslide was estimated to be one hectare.

Domines said the affected area was "totally covered" when they flew over it.

The Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Council (MDRRC) has set up a crisis center at the Pantukan Municipal Hall.

Illegal small-scale mining

The affected area had been declared a danger zone due to some unstable portions of the mountain that could result to possible landslides.

Domines said the mining activities of the small-scale miners in upper Pantukan are illegal. He said the local government unit (LGU) is "helpless" in stopping the activity.

Even if the LGU gets to move them out, he said the small-scale miners often return.

A similar landslide also hit Kingking village and the nearby Napnapan village in May 2009, killing 21 people.

Oban expresses sympathy

In a statement, Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr., public affairs chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said K-9 dogs from the [1001st] brigade were on their way to the landslide area while a K-9 platoon, a medical team with ambulances, and a platoon of soldiers from the Division Headquarters have been put on alert for possible deployment.

He said the AFP has also mobilized reservists in Tagum and Compostela Valley Province with the Commanding Officer of the 71st Infantry Battalion acting as ground commander for AFP units deployed in the search and rescue operations.

Burgos said a military helicopter took off 9 a.m. today and "designated KingKing National High School as casualty evacuation point."

Since gas stations are on holiday, he said the 71st Infantry Battalion provided fuel to deployed municipal heavy equipment.

AFP chief of Staff Eduardo Oban expressed sympathy to the affected community.

“The AFP expresses its sympathy to affected populace who are experiencing losses in the landslide. The AFP under local government units are working continuously to be able to rapidly respond with critically needed capabilities and supplies in times of crisis,” Oban said.

“The role of the AFP during any humanitarian assistance/disaster response is to rapidly respond with critically needed supplies and support to help mitigate human suffering and prevent further loss of life,” he said. -- with ANC; Agence France-Presse