Unstable garbage mountain slows down search for 4 in Rizal ‘trash slide’

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Workers and residents wait for news on a mountain of garbage at a landfill during a rescue operation in San Isidro, Rizal province, east of Manila, Philippines on Saturday April 20, 2013. AP

CAMP VICENTE LIM, Laguna—Rescuers were racing against time as they searched for four employees of a sanitary landfill who were believed to have been buried under tons of trash in Rodriguez, Rizal on Friday.

Search and rescue teams composed of policemen, soldiers and personnel from the local disaster office continued the search Saturday, although the “unstable” ground was slowing down the rescuers, said Vicente Tomazar, the director of the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

“We believe there are still chances for them to survive within 24 hours. Let’s just hope and pray,” said Tomazar.

Superintendent Arthur Masungsong, Rodriguez police chief, and Ricardo Badella, an officer of the landfill operator International Swims Corp., headed the search team, said Tomazar.

Backhoe operator Gary Balahibo and maintenance personnel Pablito Esto, Rovidico Olod, and Eddie Malano were feared buried under tons of garbage in a trash slide that occurred at around 4 p.m. on Friday.

Tomazar said a heavy downpour two hours before the incident might have triggered the avalanche that covered a hectare in the almost 19-hectare sanitary landfill.

The Rizal Provincial Sanitary Landfill, located in the upland Barangay San Isidro, is wholly owned and operated by the private contractor, International Swims Corp.

“Individual digging [by use of shovels] is not advisable so we had to use backhoes and heavy equipment. But even with those, we could not fast- track the search because the ground is so unstable it might trigger another trash slide. [Cell phone] signal in the area is also very poor,” Tomazar said.

He said the search, which has to be stopped at night because of the danger it poses to rescuers, may last for another two to three days.

“We met with the families [of the four] and explained to them why we have to do it cautiously. The company also extended financial help to them although this does not mean we are giving up hope that they are still alive,” Tomazar added.

The landfill, which was opened in 2007, receives a daily average of 3,000- 3,500 tons of garbage from Metro Manila, according to Rizal Governor Casimiro Ynares III.

Ynares, who was monitoring the rescue operation while on the campaign trail in Antipolo City where he is running for mayor, said he immediately formed a task force to conduct an investigation.

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