Valencia landslide, a disaster ‘waiting to happen’

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/6 July) – Last Monday’s landslide in Sitio Hangaron, Lumbayao, Valencia City, was a disaster waiting to happen, an official of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau said.

Three people died in that landslide, but two children also died in another landslide in another part of town also on Monday. There were also reports that 15 to 20 people may have been buried in the landslide, but as of Wednesday afternoon, only one family came to say one of them was missing.

Three brothers of the Vasquez family from Barangay Mabuhay in Valencia were earlier declared missing. But the City Disaster and Risk Management Council (CDRMC) found out they were able to escape danger.

Bob Escrupolo, of the CDRMC who was ground officer onsite on Day 3 (Wednesday) of retrieval operations, said no more bodies were recovered. But Mayor Leandro Jose Catarata extended the search for one more day, up to Thursday, because of a family who declared that one member is still missing.

Engr. Paul Salise, chief of MGB’s mining environment and safety division, told MindaNews in a telephone interview that the local government has been warned about the area’s susceptibility to landslide.

According to the report of the MGB staff who responded to the field on Monday, the landslide was caused by the heavy rains. Right then, land began to fall slowly, but the major land fall happened at 8 a.m. on Tuesday.

Salise said based on the MGB team’s assessment, landslide is “always possible” in the area every time there is heavy rain.

Salise, a geologist, said the underlying rocks were not that stable as these are “highly” and “deeply” weathered, or old rocks.

He said they have always reminded local governments to keep residents away from areas susceptible to landslides.

Valencia City, he added, is among eight towns and cities in Mindanao targeted for a detailed geo-hazard study because of the occurrence of past landslides and other disasters.

The MGB considered Barangay Lumbayao as “moderate, high” in its latest landslide geo-hazard assessment, but it was silent on Purok 11, site of the July 4 landslide.

Based on the report released in 2009, the latest so far, the MGB report did not have an assessment on Sitio Halaron, Purok 11.

The report said Lumbayao, one of Valencia City’s 31 barangays, has five villages considered as moderate to high in susceptibility to landslide, namely: Puroks 12, 15, 16, 17 and Sitio Liloan.

Salise said it is possible that the village was not included in the assessment because there are no residents in the area.

“Flow traffic in the area was not considered (in the assessment) as their consideration was proximity to communities,” he added.

Salise stressed that they have always stressed that residents and commuters should be kept away from landslide susceptible areas.

The 2009 geo-hazard assessment report noted that in Purok 15 and 17, 40 houses were on ridges; in Liloan, 10 houses on ridges; in Purok 13, 30 houses on foot slopes; Purok 12, 60 houses on foot slopes. Tension cracks, recent and old landslides, and patchy soil creep were also observed.

The assessment team, composed of four MGB geologists, recommended among others that an early warning device or system be used in the area.

But, again, there was no recommendation on Purok 11, because the MGB report was silent on it.

Arsenio Alagenio, executive officer of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, told MindaNews that the report was important to local government units because it was a tool for their planning. “It was an important road portion for the residents in the area,” he added.

Norma Gironella, regional director of the Department of Public Works and Highways, told reporters in the site Tuesday that the road widening, which the agency contracted with a firm as part of the Davao del Norte-Bukidnon highway, could have been a factor in the landslide.

But she stressed that it was “force majeure” or force of nature that actually caused the landslide, as quoted by Sandra Flores, DPWH Bukidnon first district public information officer.

The three victims were identified as Sheryl Arnosa-Sadsad of Musuan, Maramag; and Marites Lagunay and her mother Segundina, of Medina, Misamis Oriental. Searchers found the bag of the Lagunay victims with cash and three cellphones, the CDRMC reported.

The landslide, which started around 6 p.m. Sunday, forced commuters from Valencia and San Fernando town, also in Bukidnon, to transfer to another vehicle upon reaching the area.

Conchita Isidro, a survivor, said she was not sure of what happened to her fellow passengers who alighted from their vehicle and walked behind her along a 20-meter long passage at the landslide area.

She said that when she heard the sound of earth rushing from one side of the road, she just grabbed her 3-year-old grandson, John Dave, and left her bag containing her clothes and money for her child who is studying in Davao City.

Celso Mahinay, a member of the radio group Karancho, said some motorists told him that some of the passengers were brought to a hospital in San Fernando.

Lumbayao barangay chair Bobby Enabong said about 200 meters of the highway was affected by the landslide. He admitted that the site is really landslide-prone and poses a risk to commuters although it is not populated. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)