10 dead, 11 rescued in Mindanao landslide

DAVAO CITY (Updated) — Bodies of 10 miners were recovered while 11 others were rescued from a landslide that tore through a remote mining camp in the southern Philippines on Friday.

Dozens others are still missing as the debris of mud and trees buried shanties, tents and the entrances to illegal mine shafts in Kingking village in Pantukan, Compostela Valley.

The military said the landslide happened around 2:30 a.m. of April 22 in Kingking village, a known mining area with small-scale miners having mined the area for decades now.

Major General Arthur Tabaquero of the Eastern Mindanao Command said the landslide area covers about one hectare of the mining area.

Soldiers, police and miners were able to rescue 11 people in coordination with the local government unit. The remote location and other landslides blocking the lone road in were hampering efforts to bring in bulldozers and other rescue equipment.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig Gen. Romeo Mabanta said K-9 dogs from the brigade are on the way to the landslide area while a K-9 platoon, a medical team with ambulances, and a platoon of soldiers from the Division Headquarters was put on alert for possible deployment.

Army Lt. Col. Camilo Ligayo said one air force helicopter was standing by to ferry those who would be rescued to a hospital. Two other air force Huey choppers were deployed to secure the landslide-hit area from communist guerrillas, who are active in the province.

 “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,” said Gen Eduardo SL Oban Jr., AFP Chief of Staff.

“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,” said Oban.

Search and rescue

Meanwhile, members of the 71st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army have intensified search and rescue operation for more or less 34 individuals trapped under the debris of mud and trees following a massive landslide.

Rescuers reportedly heard voices from a collapsed mine tunnel in the area. A female miner remains trapped but alive as of noontime Friday. Authorities said two more dead bodies of miners were confirmed trapped in the said mine tunnel.

Lt. Col. Lyndon Paniza, spokesman of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, said one of the rescued victims is a certain Rebecca, a purok leader.

Senior Superintendent Aaron Aquino of Compostela Valley said 10 died from the landslide. He later admitted though that his figure could not be confirmed due to the unavailabilty of communication signal in the landslide area.

“It’s been raining hard since last (Friday) night here, causing a high-risk landslide area to give in, burying houses below,” said Liza Mazo, director of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) in Davao Region.

Five of the 11injured victims were brought to a hospital in Pantukan. They were Lamberto Detro,47; a 15-year-old minor (name withheld) ; Jerry Hostil, 21; Erwin Galorio, 20; and Mike Sarit.

The sixth injured, Rico Clase, 29, was brought to the Davao Medical Center in Tagum City.

Mazo said a team from the OCD was dispatched to the area to help in the relief operations.

Provincial and Municipal Social Welfare and Development established evacuation centers.

The missing were mostly illegal gold miners and their families who have long been warned to stay away from the landslide-prone area. Authorities have closed some of the tunnels to discourage illegal mining, Pantukan Mayor Celso Sarenas said.

“We have warned them repeatedly of the danger there but they wouldn’t listen,” Sarenas told The Associated Press from Pantukan, which is in a gold-rich mountainous region about 580 miles (930 kilometers) southeast of Manila.

US mining firm offers help

On the other hand, the American mining firm that’s conducting exploration in a mining site in this town has offered its resources for the search and rescue operation.

Clyde Gillespie of St. Augustine Copper and Gold said their equipment and manpower are ready to help in the search and rescue. On Friday morning, their onsite bullodozer is being used in moving debris and in stabilizing the unstable slopes.

Gillespie said they readily lent their equipments upon receiving request from the local officials of Pantukan. It was learned that the landslide area is located some distance away from the area of St. Augustine.

“The landslide is in a very remote area called Upper Lumanggang, some distance away from areas in which Nadecor and St. Augustine are conducting environmental and engineering studies in the Kingking tenement. We have also offered the use of our helipad by military helicopters, which will airlift the injured to hospitals once they are transported from the mountain to the company’s operations center,” Gillespie said.

St. Augustine Gold and Copper is the group formed by joint venture of the local mining group Nationwide Development Corporation (Nadecor) and the US-based mining firm Russell Mining and Minerals Inc. for their gold and copper project in Pantukan.

“Nadecor and St. Augustine Gold & Copper are first and foremost concerned with the safety of everyone involved in this unfortunate incident. We are devoting the resources necessary to help respond and will continue to as long as is needed. As quickly as it is feasible and safe, we will offer our assistance to help determine the cause of the incident. Tragically, landslides of this sort are common throughout this area due to unstable slopes and frequent heavy rains,” said Gillespie.

A similar landslide struck the village of Kingking — the site of Friday’s accident — and a nearby community in 2009, leaving 21 dead, including children, officials said.

Illegal miners and their families have defied government warnings and built bunkhouses and shanties near where they eke out a living by digging in narrow, dangerous shafts, where accidents are common. Friday’s landslide buried a still unknown number of those bunkhouses and entryways to nearby tunnels, the Pantukan mayor said.



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