PANTUKAN, Compostela Valley (MindaNews/05 January) — Landslide struck a gold rush site here at 3 a.m. Thursday, killing at least 18 persons, including a six-year old girl.
But 16 others were rescued, nine of them rushed to the regional hospital in Tagum City for head injuries. One is in critical condition, according to the report collated from the field by the Incident Command Post set up by the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council at the municipal town hall grounds as of 5:30 p.m.
Eight others remain missing.
The Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) earlier reported 25 had been confirmed dead but only 18 bodies had been retrieved from the landslite site in Sitio Diat 1, Napnapan.
Rescue teams, however, continue to search for trapped miners. But rains are hampering the operations. Search and rescue operations were temporarily suspended as of 2:30 p.m. due to heavy rains in the area, EastMinCom said.
The death toll from the 3 a.m. landslide is higher than last year’s landslide in Sitio Panganason, Barangay Kingking, about seven kilometers away. At least 14 persons were killed and nine others were reported missing during the landslide that happened also at 3 a.m. on April 22, a Good Friday, and incidentally, also Earth Day.
Small-scale miners in the gold rush sites and their families are not supposed to reside in the mining areas. Mayor Celso Sarenas had issued an executive order in 2008 ordering workers to vacate because of the high risk of landslides. But in the Pantukan small-scale mining sites, workers apparently continued to live with their families in bunkhouses near tunnels and ball mills.
After the April 22 landslide, the local government in a Memorandum of Understanding with the miners, declared that mining sites are a “no-habitation” zone to avoid a repeat of what happened.
At least 14 persons were killed and nine others were reported missing during the landslide that also at 3 a.m. on April 22, a Good Friday, and incidentally, also Earth Day.
Compostela Valley Governor Arturo Uy told Bombo Radyo that he and Mayor Sarenas had ordered the miners to vacate the gold rush site after the Mines and Geosciences Bureau declared the site as landslide prone.
“May nanghawa pero daghan na pud siguro namalik. Gipapahawa na sila human sa landslide sa Panganason . Unfortunately sa kadugay na wala na may nahitabo, possible namalik na pud,” (Some left but many apparently returned. They were ordered to vacate the area after the landslide in Panganason. Unfortunately, since no disaster happened again, they may have possibly returned), Uy said.
Of the 18 bodies recovered, only four have been brought down to the Angel Funeral Homes in Barangay Kingking as of 5:30 p.m. They were identified as Ivy Tolentino, 14 and Bea Tolentino, 6; Susana Velasquez. The fourth has not been identified.
The other cadavers have yet to be transported from the landslide site some two hours away by motorcycle.
Rescued and rushed to the Davao Regional Hospital in Tagum City for treatment of head injuries were Jimboy Andad, 24, of Marapat,. Monkayo; Melvin Cuadrado, 19, of San Isidro, Davao Oriental; Clark Bong Casera, 22, of Durian, Monkayo; Ronald Rey Sanches, 22, of 96 Poblacion, New Corella; Edgardo Cacho of Manga, Tagum City; Lencio Baclayon, 40, of Poblacion Mawab; Moito M. Recana, 44, of General Santos City and Arnel Nicolas, 30, of Manga, Tagum and a still unidentified man in green shirt who is in critical condition.
Hours after the April 22 landslide, Uy ordered a 30-day suspension of small-scale mining operations but this was reconsidered when Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo flew to Pantukan two days later.
Robredo told a press conference that at least 30 families living near the landslide site in the small-scale gold mining area in Barangay Kingking had been given 48 hours starting April 25 to relocate, as initial assessment shows another landslide could happen anytime.
Robredo said those who refuse would be forcibly evicted from the danger zone.
He also said the 30-day suspension of small-scale mining operations which Governor Arturo Uy ordered has been reconsidered given the economic impact on the miners but “the local government will implement the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the miners, which prohibits them from direct habitation in the gold rush site.”
Mayor Sarenas told reporters on the day of the landslide last year that forcibly relocating the miners had been very difficult. He said they had been repeatedly asking them to leave the declared hazard zones but the miners refused to leave.
“They have been always telling us that they are ready to die in disaster rather than die in hunger,” Sarenas said,” adding if it wasn’t Good Friday, “maybe more could have died.”
In May 2009, 27 miners were killed after a landslide in Sitio Magapispis, Barangay Boringot buried bunkhouses teeming with small-scale miners. (Toto Lozano and Keith Bacongco/MindaNews)