ILOILO CITY—The miners were having coffee near the end of their break around midnight on Wednesday when they noticed that earth was coming loose on the western wall of the coal mine pit.
Within seconds, the safety officer gave the warning through radio: Get out of the pit, now.
But the miners were not fast enough. They were just beginning to climb out when the western wall of the pit fell, burying men and heavy equipment under 30 to 40 meters of mud and soil.
Only three miners managed to get out of the pit on time.
Police said on Thursday morning that at least 10 miners were missing in the landslide that hit the huge Panian open coal mine pit of Semirara Mining Corp. on Semirara Island in Caluya town, Antique province.
Semirara Mining is the country’s largest coal producer, with production of 7.19 million metric tons in 2012, the DOE said.
Later in the day, the mining company issued a statement saying five of the 10 missing miners had been found dead. The five others remained missing.
George San Pedro, resident manager of Semirara Mining Corp., said three miners survived the landslide.
The miners who died were Abner Lim, Joven Hocate, Efren Equiza, Anthony Siblet and George Bragat.
San Pedro said a search was going on for the missing miners.
The missing miners were Jan Riel Planca, Randy Tamparong, Richard Padernilla, Junji Gomez and Leovigildo Porras.
San Pedro did not say what caused the landslide. He said, however, that operations were halted to ensure the safety of the company’s workers.
“The management is in the process of determining the cause of the accident in coordination with relevant government authorities,” San Pedro said.
The company was “extending full support” to the families of the affected miners, he said.
The Department of Energy (DOE) said the company “voluntarily suspended” operations and the department sent two mining engineers to Semirara on Thursday to investigate.
“We are determining what and how it happened,” Energy Undersecretary Ramon Allan Oca told the Inquirer by phone.
“We will also determine measures and recommendations to prevent similar incidents in the future,” he added.
Oca said suspension of operations was automatic for mining companies after an accident.
Semirara Mining disclosed the landslide to the Philippine Stock Exchange on Thursday, saying the company was monitoring the situation in coordination with the authorities.
The price of Semirara fell by 7.99 percent to P237.20 per share on the stock market on Thursday on news of the landslide.
The DOE said the suspension of operations at Semirara would not affect the coal supply to the country’s power plants.
Cause still unknown
Authorities in the area could not say what caused the landslide. But Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz, Western Visayas police director, said it had rained in the area in recent days but it was not clear if bad weather helped set off the landslide.
No major earthquake has been detected recently in Antique, 350 kilometers south of Manila.
Semirara has three barangays (villages) and is one of the nine islands comprising Caluya town in Antique at the northern end of Panay Island.
Semirara Island is accessible by plane or motorboat from the Antique mainland. The boat ride takes six hours.
Two of the survivors—Marjun Catoto and Adrian Celmar—were taken to the mining company’s infirmary on the island.
The other survivor, Leonardo Sojor, was taken to the University of Santo Tomas Hospital in Manila for treatment.—With reports from Amy R. Remo and Doris Dumlao; Jamie Marie Elona, Inquirer.net; and AP
Originally posted at 11:35 am | Thursday, February 14, 2013