Dozens killed in Philippines landslide

 

A landslide tore through a small gold mining site in the southern Philippines today, killing at least 25 people and burying dozens more.

The mountainside in Napnapan village, Pantukan township, collapsed around 3am, when most residents were asleep, sweeping away about 50 houses, shanties and other buildings, officials said.

Aside from those confirmed dead, more than 100 people are believed buried in the rubble, Compostela Valley provincial governor Arturo Uy said.

The disaster came months after government officials warned miners that the mountain above them was guaranteed to crumble.

Scores of soldiers and volunteers are helping villagers dig for survivors and bodies, regional military spokesman Colonel Leopoldo Galon said. The bodies of two girls aged six and 14 were among those retrieved, he said.

At least 16 people were taken to hospital, with six in critical condition, Col Galon said.

Environment and natural resources secretary Ramon Paje said he had warned residents and local officials last year of a fissure on a ridge of the mountain that geologists said was "highly susceptible" to landslides that could occur any time.

"We were absolute that it will give in," he said. "It was a 100% warning. We told them it's just a matter of time. This is it. This is what happened this morning."

Pantukan town spokesman Arnulfo Lantayan said heavy rains were hampering search and rescue work and increased the risk of further slides "because there is still earth movement".

Photos of the village taken by the army's 10th Infantry Division after the landslide show a steep mountainside that looks like it was gouged by a giant shovel. Houses not buried by the rubble were lying on their sides while crumpled tin roofs and trees lay nearby.

One tunnel entrance appeared half covered by rocks and soil. It was unclear how many mine shafts have been blocked by debris.

Thousands of poor Filipinos dig and pan for gold in the area, hoping to strike it rich despite the dangers of largely unregulated mining. The tunnels are often unstable and landslides and accidents are common.

Compostela Valley province is on the main southern Philippine island of Mindanao, where flash floods triggered by a tropical storm killed more than 1,250 people in December.

Mr Uy said miners and their families had been warned that the heavy rains made the small tunnels and mine shafts that honeycomb the hills and mountains more dangerous.

He said authorities advised residents as early as December 16, when Tropical Storm Washi was sweeping across Mindanao, to leave their tunnels, "but unfortunately some have not responded to our advisories".

Hundreds of residents near the site were forced to evacuate last April after a landslide killed about 20 people.

Mr Uy said it was difficult to monitor the "extremely high risk area" because it is so remote and some residents who were evacuated in April may have "sneaked back".

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