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14 dead, 57 missing in Cebu landslide

‘It was like an earthquake and there was this thundering, loud banging sound’
/ 05:10 AM September 21, 2018

MANUAL SEARCH A team of government rescuers use shovels and pickaxes to dig through earth and rocks that buried a community near a limestone quarry in the city of Naga in Cebu province. JUNJIE MENDOZA/CEBU DAILY NEWS

NAGA CITY, CEBU — Alejandro Ravanes was lying on his bed in Barangay Tinaan here when he felt the ground shaking lightly before 6 a.m. on Thursday.

He ignored it.

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But what came next seemed like a nightmare for Ravanes and his neighbors at Sitio Sindulan, as a portion of the mountain collapsed burying at least 14 houses below.

As of 5:45 p.m. Thursday, the Cebu Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said 14 bodies had been recovered. At least 15 survivors were pulled out from the huge mound of earth, rocks and debris, and were taken to a local hospital.

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Rescuers, armed with shovels and pickaxes, were scrambling to find at least 57 people missing in the landslide—the worst to hit Cebu in recent years.

“We’re really hoping we can still recover them alive,” Naga Mayor Kristine Vanessa Chiong told The Associated Press (AP).

Some victims still managed to send text messages after the landslide hit, adding elderly women and a child were among the dead, Chief Insp. Roderick Gonzales told AP.

The landslide hit while several provinces in northern Luzon were still dealing with deaths and widespread damage wrought by Typhoon “Ompong” (international name: Mangkhut), which pummeled the agricultural region on Saturday and left at least 88 people dead and 64 others missing. A massive search was still underway for dozens of people feared dead after landslides hit the mining town of Itogon in Benguet province.

Unstable ground

Rescuers were treading carefully in small groups on the unstable ground to avoid further casualties.

Ravanes, 26, immediately hugged his wife, Florable and their 3-year-old son when his house was covered by soil.

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“If we would die, I wanted [to die hugging] them,” he said in an interview over radio station dyLA.

Then he heard his son crying, saying his feet were hurting, making him realize that he was alive.

This gave Ravanes the strength to find ways to survive.

He said he tried to open the door of their room but it wouldn’t move since it was blocked by soil and rocks. He then destroyed a window so they could crawl toward the surface.

After they got out, he heard his brother’s voice underneath the pile of soil, shouting for help.

Ravanes and his wife immediately dug the spot where the voice was coming and pulled out his brother, Sidney, his sister-in-law and their daughter, Baby Jane, 8.

COMMUNITY TRAGEDY Bodies retrieved from the landslide area in the village of Tinaan in Naga City are taken to the community’s chapel in Sitio Sindulan. —JUNJIE MENDOZA/CEBU DAILY NEWS

Like an earthquake

Cristita Villarba, a 53-year-old resident, told AP by phone that her husband and son were preparing to leave for work when the ground shook and they were overwhelmed by a roar.

“It was like an earthquake and there was this thundering, loud banging sound. All of us ran out,” Villarba said, adding she, her husband and three children were shocked but unhurt.

Outside, she saw the house of her elderly brother, Lauro, and his family buried in the landslide.

“Many of our neighbors were crying and screaming for help. Some wanted to help those who got hit but there was too much earth covering the houses,” she said.

It’s not clear what set off the landslide, but some residents blamed limestone quarries, which they suspect may have damaged and caused cracks in the mountainside facing their villages.

Analyn Pansoy, in an interview over dyLA, said that before the tragedy, they had been complaining of the cracks on the slope above their houses in Tinaan, an interior village located about 2.4 kilometers from the city proper.

She said a nearby cement factory was conducting quarrying operations at the site.

MGB inspection

Naga City officials sought the help of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) last month to check on the crack found on the mountainside at Sitio Tagaytay, especially that these appeared to be getting bigger.

On Aug. 29, Gerardo Mahusay of MGB regional office in Central Visayas wrote Mayor Chiong, assuring her that Tinaan was safe and that there was nothing to worry about.

Mahusay said the cracks were not related to nearby quarrying operations.

But Mahusay later clarified that the letter was based on initial findings of MGB’s inspection team. He was supposed to issue a final report on Thursday, based on a second inspection on Wednesday.

The city government and barangay officials conducted a preemptive evacuation on Wednesday night during heavy downpour out of fear of a landslide.

At least 350 families heeded the call but many remained in the village. —WITH REPORTS FROM FUTCH INSO, ROSALIE ABATAYO, DORIS BONGCAC, MOREXETTE ERRAM, AP, AFP

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