[PHOTO- Philippine rescuers claw through dirt in a search for survivors a day after a landslide buried workers in mining tunnels in a gold-rich area in Kingking village of Pantukan town in Compostela province, southern Philippines on April 23, 2011. Photograph by: AFP, Getty]

MANILA, APRIL 25, 2011 (STAR) By Jaime Laude - Rescuers resumed the search for survivors of the landslide that hit a small-scale mining community in Barangay Kingking, Pantukan, Compostela Valley province on Good Friday.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) has placed the death toll at three, with 10 injured and 22 missing.

Pantukan Mayor Celso Sarenas said last Friday that 27 bodies were found, but later issued a statement that he has been misinformed by health workers.

"So far 22 are reported missing but there could be more because there are some transients who arrived but did not register," Sarenas said.

Shanties have mushroomed around Kingking after a gold rush in the area nearly 20 years ago. Many of the mining operations were illegal and unregulated, and there have been frequent accidents.

"An Army brigade with heavy equipment, two helicopters along with elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the local rescue teams have been committed to the area for the search and rescue operations," NDRRMC executive officer and Office of Civil Defense (OCD) administrator Benito Ramos said.

Rescuers, who initially safely rescued four trapped miners, have so far recovered three bodies but only one has been identified - Jun Rex Torrejos, 15, of La Filipina, Tagum City.

The landside induced by heavy rains resulted in serious injuries to 10 other miners, five of them now confined at the Pantukan Emergency Hospital and five at Davao Medical Center in Tagum City.

Local folk usually do full-blast mining operations during Good Friday in the belief that mineral deposits like gold are easily extracted, unlike on ordinary days.

"Due to heavy rains, a landslide occurred at about 2:30 a.m. and apparently the trapped 22 small-scale miners were inside a tunnel that also collapsed," Ramos said.

He said K-9 trackers have been deployed to help rescue teams pinpoint the location of the missing miners.

Ramos said that contrary to earlier reports that 10 perished in the landslide, they are not declaring anything yet as long as the missing miners are not recovered.

"It is only the Department of Health (DOH) who has the authority to declare how many died, how many survived. But that would only come after our search and recovery operation in the area is over," he said.

Mining suspended

Because of the incident, Compostela Valley Gov. Arthur Uy suspended for 30 days the small-scale mining activities in the province.

Uy said the suspension was necessary to allow the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to assess the hazards and risks in the mining sites in the province and not just in Pantukan.

The governor also ordered the strict implementation of a local memorandum prohibiting locals to reside within mining sites.

Landslides have been recurring in the Compostela Valley mining sites especially during heavy rains. The region has lately been experiencing a low pressure area that has brought about incessant rains and caused floods and landslides in different areas.

The US-based, Canadian-listed mining firm St. Augustine Gold & Copper Ltd. and the Philippines' Nationwide Development Corp. said the landslide happened in a remote area some distance away from where they were conducting environmental and engineering studies.

On its website, St. Augustine said the Kingking prospect is one of the largest underdeveloped copper-gold deposits in the world. The government's mines bureau has listed Kingking as one of its priority investment projects.

"As quickly as it is feasible and safe, we will offer our assistance to help determine the cause of the incident," the companies said in a joint statement, also offering their assistance in search and rescue operations. "Tragically, landslides of this sort are common throughout this area due to unstable slopes and frequent heavy rains," they added.

Two years ago, a landslide in another part of the village killed more than 20 people, including some children. Residents had been ordered to relocate due to the instability of the land and risk of landslides. - With Perseus Echeminada, Edith Regalado, AP

Hopes dim for 17 miners By Edith Regalado (The Philippine Star) Updated April 25, 2011 12:00 AM

[Rescuers search for victims of landslide at a mining camp of Pantukan, Compostela Valley last Saturday. AP]

Manila - Hopes of finding more survivors dimmed yesterday even as rescuers raced against time in the search for up to 17 people believed trapped after a landslide hit a remote gold-rush area in Pantukan, Compostela Valley on Good Friday.

Rescuers dug out two more bodies from tons of soil and mud yesterday in the frantic search for other miners still unaccounted for more than two days after the landslide.

The official death toll from Friday's disaster reached five but Pantukan town Mayor Celso Sarenas conceded the chance of finding more survivors was slim.

Thirteen miners have been rescued while 17 are still missing.

Officials identified four of the fatalities as Marjun Guilabtan, 18; Relieto Tabay, 22; Jun Rex Torrejos, 15, and Marvin Anglai.

Soldiers and miners were digging with shovels and hands, and a backhoe from a nearby mining operation was helping in the rescue.

"We have to be realistic," Sarenas declared. "We believe most of the missing were in their bunkhouses when the landslide occurred."

Regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Lyndon Paniza said the troops have shifted from search and rescue to retrieval operations in the affected area.

Maj. Jake Obligado, leader of the 120-member military unit undertaking the rescue, also believed the chances of any more survivors being pulled from the debris were next to nil.

"Because of the sheer volume of the debris and the clay soil involved that hardens when mixed with rainwater, it would be difficult for anyone to survive underneath," Obligado said.

Obligado said Mayor Sarenas, as chairman of the local crisis management committee, has ordered the rescue teams to shift to retrieval operation.

The landslide hit Sitio Panganason, Barangay Kingking, a remote mountain district near Pantukan before dawn Friday after heavy rain, burying illegal gold mines as well as houses, stores and crude gold processing mills.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje ordered the suspension of mining operations in the area following the disaster.

Paje said authorities detected a 70-meter fissure directly above the landslide area.

It was learned that about 30 bunkhouses are located below the fissure that could easily give way and create another landslide.

"It's really critical," Paje said. "The mountain slope is highly susceptible to another landslide."

Paje said he would discuss with local officials how to evacuate the gold miners out of harm's way.

Despite the danger, hundreds of villagers have dug for gold in narrow dangerous shafts in Kingking for years. Many have ignored warnings and defied occasional government crackdowns on illegal mining by the police and military.

"They tell us they would rather die in a disaster than die of hunger," Sarenas added.

Paje said he would recommend to Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo to take the necessary action and talk to local officials and the military to implement forced evacuation in the area.

Eastern Mindanao Command chief Maj. Gen. Arthur Tabaquero said they would implement the forced evacuation once they receive the order.

Tabaquero admitted though it will be a tough task considering that small-scale miners are known to defy any order to relocate them away from the mining area.

Paje said he and other Cabinet members were under orders from President Aquino to take steps to prevent more deaths in the gold-mining region, which has been hit by deadly accidents in the past.

"The government has the power to carry out a forced evacuation when the danger is really high," Paje said.

Sarenas estimated there are around 20,000 to 30,000 living in the one-hectare mining area, which can be only reached by motorcycle.

One person was killed and five others were injured in a landslide in the same area last month, while 21 people died when a similar disaster brought on by heavy rains hit the same location in May 2009. –With Alexis Romero, AP


PANTUKAN, Philippines - Rescuers clawed through dirt Saturday in a desperate search for survivors a day after a landslide buried workers in mining tunnels in a gold-rich area in the southern Philippines.

But despite their efforts, officials in charge of the rescue warned that they were unlikely to find any more survivors, with at least 21 people still missing from Friday's pre-dawn landslide.

"We are still continuing our search and rescue. But most likely if we don't have any improvement tonight, by tomorrow, we will shift to (body) retrieval operations," said local military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Lyndon Paniza.

Officials said that so far, only three deaths have been confirmed and 13 people rescued. Paniza said earlier reports that 15 had been rescued were found to be a mis-count.

Officials in the Kingking mountain district where the landslide occurred have classified at least 21 people as missing but Paniza said other victims may also have been buried.

"We are relying on the names given by the district officials. We are hoping that there are no others who were not on that list," he told AFP.

It is difficult to pinpoint exact numbers for the missing because of the transient nature of mining work that draws people into the area.

The pre-dawn landslide covered numerous illegal, small-scale gold mines on the mountainside in Kingking, including mining tunnels, houses, stores and gold processing mills.

Such illegal mining operations, with inadequate safety measures, are common in the mineral-rich but poverty-stricken southern island of Mindanao.

The searchers, including soldiers, civil defence personnel and volunteers from other mines in the area, continued to dig, mostly using shovels and picks, hoping that some people may have survived in their mining tunnels.

The depth of collapsed earth, however, has lowered the chances of finding more survivors, said regional civil defence chief Liza Mazo.

"We are pessimistic. It is difficult (to dig) because the landslide is 15 to 20 metres (50 to 66 feet) deep," she told AFP.

At the Pantukan town hall, which serves as a makeshift command centre for the disaster, helicopters landed and took off regularly, taking officials to the landslide site at Kingking, over an hour's drive away.

Former small-scale miner Danding Labanan said he knew most of the missing and was not surprised by the tragedy.

"That area has long been considered dangerous but the miners wouldn't listen to the authorities so this happened," said Labanan, who now works as a blacksmith forging tools for the miners.

He said mining was likely to continue despite the landslide.

"People won't leave. They have no other lives except mining. I am a blacksmith now, but if an opportunity arose to mine, I would go back to the tunnels," he said.

In the wake of the disaster, provincial Governor Arturo Uy said he would impose a 30-day moratorium on small-scale mining.

Authorities said one person was killed and five others were injured in a landslide in the same area last month, while 21 people died when a similar disaster brought on by heavy rains hit the same location in May 2009.

The mayor of the district where the landslide occurred, Celso Sarenas, said he was helpless to stop people from mining in the disaster-prone site.

"Once, I tried to have the people evacuated. But when my aide went there, they pointed a gun at him. What else can we do?" he said in a television interview.


Landslide strikes town in Philippines Published: April 22, 2011 at 6:56 AM

PANTUKAN, Philippines, April 22 (UPI) -- Heavy rains caused a landslide in a Philippines mining community, killing at least two people and injuring six others, a civil defense spokeswoman said.

Liza Mazo said about 40 people were still missing in the town of Pantukan, the Philippines' ABS-CBN news reported Friday.

One of the two people reported killed was a 16-year-old boy.

Col. Robert Domines of the 10th Infantry Division said search and rescue operations were continuing.

Three air force helicopters were brought in to transport survivors and rescue equipment.

Domines said the affected area was "totally covered" in mud but he could not say how many homes had been buried by the landslide.

The area was declared a danger zone earlier and miners were warned of the risk of a landslide, Pantukan Mayor Celso Sarenas said. © 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.


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