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(UPDATE 2) Death toll reaches 14 in Compostela landslides

Posted by Abi Kwok on September 8, 2008

More landslides threaten–police

By Frinston Lim
Mindanao Bureau, Associated Press
First Posted 09:26:00 09/08/2008

MACO, Compostela Valley — Four more bodies were retrieved from under mud and boulders, while another was found swept by a rampaging river, bringing to 14 the death toll from twin landslides here over the weekend.

This developed as Compostela Valley provincial police director Senior Superintendent Ronald dela Rosa warned that more landslides could hit the mountain village of Masara as “light rains” continue to fall and soften the ground further.

Elizabeth Uy, Maco social welfare officer, said Masara, which was hit by landslides on Saturday and Sunday, has become a virtual “no-man’s land” after its more than 5,000 residents were evacuated to the village of Elizalde in Mawab town.

One body was found along the Mawab River on Sunday, some 13 kilometers downstream from Masara, while four bodies were dug up Monday.

“Continuous pa rin yung ulan dito at malambot pa yung lupa so baka mamaya magkaruon pa uli ng landslide. Pinapayuhan namin ang mga tao na manatili na lamang sa mga evacuation centers [The rains are continuous and the ground is still soft so more landslides are possible. We advise the people to remain at the evacuation centers for now],” Dela Rosa said.

Maco Mayor Voltaire Rimando said he declared a state of emergency in Masara because of the danger and the devastation, to allow the rapid release of disaster relief funds from the town’s coffers.

The landslides, which cascaded down a mountainside with frightening booms, buried about 28 houses, said Rimando.

Although heavy rains made rescue work too dangerous Sunday, rescuers resumed operations Monday.

Provincial Governor Arturo Uy said he would request more expert rescuers from the national government and private groups, and enlist the help of geologists from two leading universities in Manila.

Army and police, backed by two air force helicopters and workers from a gold-mining company, battled heavy rains and mud to search for villagers reported buried, regional police director, Chief Superintendent Andres Caro II told The Associated Press by telephone.

Dela Rosa said they have deployed two teams from the provincial mobile group and two teams from municipal police stations to assist in rescue and recovery operations.

However, he admitted difficulty in coordinating with police at the disaster area because “there [is] no signal there, so the police have to come back here via motorcycles to submit their reports.”

Dela Rosa said the situation in the area remained “uncertain.”

Roger Corales, who escaped unharmed, said Saturday he saw people crying for help as they slowly disappeared under the falling earth, their hands grasping desperately for something to hold on to.

A landslide last year killed 10 people in the same village, prompting the Bureau of Mines and Geosciences to recommend that the landslide-prone area be abandoned. But many villagers, who depend on the local gold-mining industry for a living, refused to leave, Caro said.

Abigail Kwok,

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