Pantukan shifts from rescue to retrieval operations

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/10 January) – Convinced that chances of survival six days after the tragedy are slim, the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (MDRRMC) of Pantukan in Compostela Valley has shifted work from rescue to retrieval operations in the landslide site that occurred at Sitio Diat 1 in Barangay Napnapan that left 36 persons killed and 36 others missing.

The number of missing people dropped from 42 on Monday to 36 today as four of those in the list were later traced to be alive who had gone home before the incident happened, while two other casualties were already identified by their relatives.

Dr. Arnulfo Lantaya, MDRRMC spokesperson, told MindaNews over the phone that the decision to move on to retrieval operations was made after a meeting of the local disaster council today, six days after the tragedy.

He said the number of retrieval volunteers working in the site has also reduced to around 100. On the first three days of the rescue operations, the rescue workers numbered to at least 200.

He said an excavator arrived on Sunday but it cannot be used in the retrieval operations because the ravine is quite deep, thus difficult for the operator to maneuver it going down to the bottom of the landslide site.

During the rescue operations, volunteers retrieved most of the bodies at the bottom of the landslide area, at least 30 meters below from the compound of Hexat Mining Corporation. The path of the landslide almost buried the compound of the mining company in mud.

“The number of days of the retrieval operations will depend on how long the volunteers can withstand the stench given that it has been almost a week since the tragedy happened,” Lantaya said.

He added that at present, volunteers are manually digging using shovels, aided with water to soften the soil.

Ely Sanchez, chair of the Diat Small-Scale Miners Cooperative, earlier told MindaNews that they have enough water supply but they lack water hoses.

Some volunteers are filling barrels with water and pour them into the mud. But there were times when they would ran out of water and would have to wait 15 minutes for the pump to fill the water reservoir before they could resume digging.

Meanwhile, Lantaya said most of the miners in sitios Diat 1 and Diat 2 have already left their shanties. But he could not yet give the exact number pending the verification on Wednesday.

But he added that the local government will send demolition teams to destroy the shanties left by the miners, following the “no habitation” policy ordered by Mayor Celso Sarenas. (Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)