Frantic dig for Philippine victims of typhoon landslide

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Sep 17 2018 06:02 PM | Updated as of Sep 17 2018 10:56 PM

ITOGON - Philippine rescuers used shovels and their bare hands to claw through mounds of rocky soil on Monday as they desperately looked for dozens of people feared buried beneath a landslide unleashed by Typhoon Ompong (Mangkhut).

Searchers have already pulled 11 bodies from the vast debris field in Itogon, in the disaster-hit nation's north. Up to 40 may still be buried, with little hope they have survived.

"We believe that those people there, maybe 99 percent, are already dead," Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan told reporters.

He added later: "It will continue until they (searchers) surrender. There are relatives among the rescuers who are still hoping they will be able to find their kin alive."

A massive hillside, weakened by the monster storm's lashing rains, collapsed on the miners' bunkhouse about a half-kilometer (third of a mile) below.

Ompong, the world's most powerful storm this year, pounded the Philippines at the weekend with torrential rains and violent winds that snapped utility poles and sheared roofs off homes.

Authorities say dozens died in the storm, mostly buried in landslides in the mountainous regions in the north of Luzon, the Philippines' largest island. 

Hundreds of rescuers in rows formed a human chain to pass rocks, debris and tree trunks out of the search area in Itogon.

The massive landslide left a gaping gash in the otherwise green hillside that was studded with small homes topped with rusting metals roofs.

With damaged roads preventing the entry of heavy equipment, soldiers, police and miners also used shovels and channeled water from a nearby stream to loosen the earth.

It was excruciatingly slow work, as anguished relatives watched and waited for word on their missing loved ones.

Residents of the remote town, in the Cordillera range about 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Manila, had sought refuge in the building to avoid the wrath of Ompong.

The two-storey structure was an old bunkhouse abandoned by a gold mining firm at an area that has since been settled by small-time miners, Palangdan said.

Recovered bodies were draped in fabric and lined up in a row at a makeshift tent on a nearby road above the bunkhouse. 

Landslides and flooding elsewhere in the Philippines forced nearly 200,000 people to flee their homes, according to a police tally.

Weeks of heavy monsoon downpours had already left hillsides unstable in the region.

Crescencio Pacalso, the governor of Benguet, a province that includes Itogon, also cited a tragic case in Baguio, the region's largest city, where small-scale miners were helping to find a woman whose house had been buried.

"Unfortunately, there was a second collapse and the responders themselves became victims of a landslide. Six of them managed to crawl out but two others are missing," he added.

"It rained for a month here in Benguet just before (Ompong) arrived, so the ground was soggy, leading to erosion and landslides," Bacalso said.


© Agence France-Presse