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REQUIEM FOR HEROES. Rescuers dig out of the muddy rubble the bodies of a fireman, an engineer and a volunteer who died trying to save the victims of a landslide at Sitio Buyagan in La Trinidad, Benguet, on Friday. EV ESPIRITU/INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON


150 die in Benguet slide

Baby’s body in sack moves mayor to cry

By Delmar Carińo, Vincent Cabreza, Frank Cimatu, Inquirer Northern Luzon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:26:00 10/10/2009

Filed Under: Landslide, Disasters (general)

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet -- Gazing at a mountainside that had collapsed, La Trinidad Mayor Artemio Galwan was moved to tears on seeing the ruins of houses swamped by mud.

Then he asked what was inside the sack being carried by a trolley. He was told it contained the body of a baby. It was killed in the landslide that smashed into the community of Little Kibungan.

The mayor?s eyes moistened, he bowed his head and uttered a prayer. On a normal day, the trolley would have been carrying vegetables from highland farms.

Galwan told the Philippine Daily Inquirer yesterday more than 20 houses were swept away by the mudslides that occurred on Thursday night, and he feared around 150 people might have been buried in the avalanche that hit his town.

?Kakaasi da piman [They are pitiful],? Galwan, who was supervising rescue operations, said as the first batch of bodies were brought in from the other side of the mountain.

Entire village gone

?I really feel sad. It?s an entire village that was washed out,? he said.

Rescuers yesterday struggled through mud and pounding rain to clear mountain roads and retrieve scores of people dead from the landslides that buried villages and cut off towns in the rain-soaked Northern Luzon.

Reports from the regional Office of Civil Defense and the Cordillera police placed the death toll at 122. Estimates of the number of missing ran as high as 70.

The latest calamity brought the death toll to more than 450 from the Philippines? worst flooding in 40 years after back-to-back storms started pounding Luzon, including Metro Manila, on September 26.

Rescuers buried

The Associated Press, quoting provincial officials, said more than 160 people were killed in the landslides in Benguet and Mountain Province.

The fatalities included 120 in Benguet, according to Governor Nestor Fongwan, the AP said. It said another 23 died in Mountain Province, according to Governor Max Dalog. Twenty-five 25 people died in Baguio.

Agence France-Presse put the death toll from the landslides at 181.

In Sitio (sub-village) Buyagan in Barangay (village)Poblacion, Johnny Dulnuan was trapped under the rubble of his house on Thursday but managed to send a message to his brother, Edward, an engineer.

The area was pitch black because power had been cut off and rains were pouring down. Edward managed to round up volunteers, including a local fireman, but they themselves were buried as more slides occurred.

Johnny survived. He was pulled out of the ruins by other volunteers. But he lost his wife and his child was missing.

Another team searched for Johnny?s brother Edward. They found a baseball cap near the rubble -- then they saw Edward and two other volunteers buried near the cap.

One of the bodies belonged to the La Trinidad fireman.

But there was a bright side to the tragic tales.

At 10:30 a.m. yesterday, rescue volunteers pulled out alive four members of a family -- among them a 4-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy -- who were pinned by mudslides in Cresencia Village along Bokawkan Road.

Rescued with the two children were a teenager and their grandmother, Elvira Ventura.

One of the volunteers said that earlier, he heard Ventura?s weak voice coming from beneath the rubble.

?We had no time to find out who they were at first. We wrapped them in blankets and sent them straight to the hospital,? the volunteer said.

Landslides elsewhere

Reports gathered by the Philippine Daily Inquirer from various disaster response agencies, local officials and rescue workers placed the number of fatalities initially at 92. The number of missing and feared dead in Benguet and Mountain Province was more than 70.

Benguet suffered the most fatalities, with 62 people buried from separate landslides that occurred at around 10 p.m. Thursday.

At least 55 residents of the Little Kibungan community were killed. More than 40 others were missing.

Seven people were buried in the rubble of four houses in Barangay Buyagan.

A massive landslide also hit Tadian town in Mountain Province on Thursday night, killing five people. OCD reports said 32 others were missing.

Even mountainside communities around Baguio City were not spared as at least seven landslides occurred from 8:30 p.m. Thursday to 10 a.m. yesterday, claiming the lives of 25 people.

Earlier Thursday, landslides buried nine people, two of them children, in Tublay and Mankayan towns, also in Benguet.

Higher death toll

Superintendent Elmer Soria, deputy chief for operations of the Cordillera police, said the death toll could increase as reports of new landslides in Benguet and Mountain Province continued to come in.

Soria said it was difficult to gather reports from Mountain Province because of power blackouts and because roads had been cut.

Mayor Galwan said the landslide was the worst disaster to hit this capital town. He said the area in Puguis hit by the landslide was a gulley, whose slopes were dotted by houses.

Cars and other vehicles were buried. Roofs of houses jutted out of the mud. A concrete house was swept away by cascading dirt and rocks.

John Danglipen, a village councilor in Puguis, said around 40 people might still be buried in the area.

Only roofs visible

?Much as we wanted to help, we could not do anything. Flashlights were no match to the darkness and we could not determine the magnitude of the slide,? he said.

La Trinidad Councilor Francis Lee said residents heard people screaming at past 10 p.m. but they couldn?t come to their rescue owing to the strong rains and the power blackout.

Elsewhere, three people died in another landslide that hit Dominican Hill on Thursday night.

As of noon yesterday, the city public information office reported that 10 evacuation sites in the city were sheltering 260 families or 1,329 people.

Floods around the City Camp Lagoon rose to about 20 feet. Only rooftops could be seen.

Aside from the City Camp Lagoon, other flood and landslide-prone communities being monitored in Baguio were Marville Subdivision, Lourdes Extension, Palma Street, Queen of Peace, Irisan, Mirador and M. Roxas.

Blocked by trash

Mayor Reinaldo Bautista Jr. said the government built a tunnel system that was supposed to discharge lagoon water through the Crystal Cave, but the tunnel was clogged by trash.

The four major routes to Baguio City?Kennon Road, Marcos Highway, Naguilian Road and Ambuklao Road (Baguio-Nueva Vizcaya Road) -- were rendered impassable by landslides.

In Ifugao, landslides struck rice terraces and hillside communities in the towns of Banaue, Hingyon, Hungduan, Tinoc and Mayoyao, said Gov. Teodoro Baguilat Jr.

He said Ifugao had a lone typhoon-related fatality -- a man who drowned in Aguinaldo town.

Olive Luces, Office of Civil Defense regional director, said the Department of Public Works and Highways would prioritize the clearing operations of Marcos Highway and Naguilian Road. Reports from EV Espiritu, Gobleth Moulic and Gabriel Cardinoza, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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