CEBU CITY – They were working on a project to protect from landslides the steam pipes inside the geothermal complex of Energy Development Corp. (EDC) in Leyte on Friday morning when disaster struck.
Suddenly, mounds of earth cascaded from the mountains and fell on the workers of a subcontractor at Upper Mahiao, Barangay (village) Lim-ao, about 10 kilometers from Kananga town proper in Leyte.
Of the 43 workers, 37 personnel have been accounted for, while six others remained missing as of Friday afternoon.
Of the 37 accounted for, five were declared dead, 21 were treated at the EDC clinic and 11 others were being treated at a hospital, EDC said.
The landslide had been triggered by two weeks of intermittent rain, which may have loosened the soil, said Kananga Mayor Elmer Codilla.
“It is a forested area. Past few days, ulan nang ulan dito. Kabii, naglindol pa. [It has been raining her in the past few days. On Thursday night, there was even an earthquake,” said Codilla in a phone interview on Friday.
Of the five fatalities, he said only two had been identified. They were Joel Milay and Bonifacio Polinio.
Codilla said EDC and Ormoc City Government were conducting rescue operations to look for the six other workers who remained missing but told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a phone interview that the operation was hampered by the intermittent rains, forcing the rescuers to stop the search so as not to put their lives at risk.
According to the company website, the Leyte Geothermal Production Field is the world’s largest wet steamfield, which straddles Ormoc City and Kananga town, Leyte.
Its contract area covers 50,361 hectares while total plant capacity is over 700 megawatts.
EDC has mobilized all its personnel as well as equipment in the search and rescue operations, according to the statement issued by Rico Bersamin, senior vice president of EDC Leyte Geothermal Business Unit, and Albert Ignacio of First Balfour, the project contractor.
Ignacio told Inquirer in a phone interview that the 43 workers belonged to their subcontractor J Arradaza Construction “whom Balfour contracted to supply equipment, labor and materials and other resources to finish that portion of the project”.
“We are general contractor (of EDC). Some of the works under our contact we have it subcontracted, he added.
Ignacio said they were building pipe shelter in EDC’s Pad 403 in Upper Mahiao to protect the steam pipes.
He described the slopes in the area as similar to the Kenon Road in Baguio where rocks and earth would fall anytime of the day especially when it rained.
To protect the steam pipe, a concrete structure would be built which had a roof and a wall to protect these from the rocks.
Shortly before 10 a.m., Ignacio said the 43 workers of J Arradaza were scattered along the road. Some were just about to start their work while others were just being deployed.
Suddenly the landslide occurred.
Ignacio said some were able to escape but a few were hit by the landslide.
He confirmed that five bodies were recovered while rescue operations were ongoing for the six missing.
Ignacio said they planned to gather the families of those missing so they could be given constant updates.
The EDC has yet to release the names of the fatalities but they said they were coordinating with the families of the affected First Balfour employees.
Mayor Codilla said what happened was an accident because the workers were in safety gear harness and hard hat at the project site when the landslide struck at 9:58 a.m.
“Naa ni sila sa kalsada. Lahat nang mga workers naka hard hat, nakaharness unya naigo sa landslide. Disgrasya gyud lang [They were along the road. They had hard hats and harness when they were hit by the landslide. It was an accident],” he said.