Gov't gathers experts in frantic search for Benguet landslide survivors


Posted at Sep 18 2018 04:09 PM | Updated as of Sep 18 2018 05:54 PM

Rescuers retrieve one of the bodies buried under tons of mud in Bgy. Ucab, Itogon Benguet on Tuesday. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) on Tuesday said it has sent a team of 179 multi-disciplinary experts to help in the frantic search for survivors feared trapped under mounds of rock and soil in the mountain town of Itogon, Benguet. 

Typhoon Ompong (International name: Mangkut), the world's strongest storm so far this year, unleashed landslides in Itogon this weekend, the deadliest of which struck bunkhouses in Barangay Ucab, where dozens of small-scale miners and their families lived.

At least 14 fatalities have been pulled out from the rubble by rescuers who used bare hands and shovels, while narrow roads littered with typhoon debris prevented heavy equipment from reaching the area, the local government said. 

"NDRRMC has sent an augmentation of a 179-member team to participate. Multi-disciplinary iyun, they are trained for search and rescue and retrieval and also to do rapid assessment on the damage so they can report back to us," council spokesperson Edgar Posadas said in a press briefing. 

Sixty-five people, including the children of some miners, remain missing as of Tuesday, the local government said. 

The chances of finding survivors as the search entered its third day are now slim, but "there's always hope that we find them alive," said Posadas. 

The NDRRMC, he said, will consult rescuers on the ground on how much longer the search, rescue and retrieval operations should continue, added Posadas. 

Authorities also eye identifying the fatalities within the day, he said. 

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Mangkhut killed at least 74 people across northern and central Luzon, according to the latest police tally. The typhoon also swamped vast tracts of farmlands just weeks away from harvest, leaving some P14 billion worth of damage, said the agriculture department. 

Around 43,600 families or 162,000 individuals remained in evacuation centers on Tuesday, said Posadas. 

The social welfare department has requested for an additional P1.7 billion in funds for the distribution of food packs, which will give priority to farmers, said the agency's Undersecretary Hope Hervilla in the same press briefing. 

The Department of Trade and Industry, meanwhile, has not monitored any shortage of commodities or price hikes in 5 areas that earlier declared a state of calamity, said Posadas.