29 bodies dug up at landslide site below limestone quarry
NAGA CITY, Cebu—Cries for help coming from underneath tons of soil and rocks had grown silent as the search for the dead led retrieval teams to more bodies of victims of a landslide that buried a community of about 1,000 people below a limestone quarrying site.
The mud-caked bodies were dug up on Friday, bringing the death toll to 29 in the disaster that struck on Thursday.
Two of the bodies were that of a man embracing his child in one of the buried houses.
They were dug out by retrieval teams using a backhoe on Thursday night in a poignant scene witnessed by journalists.
Rescue and retrieval workers had heard cries coming from underneath the tons of soil and rocks that buried the community.
But on Friday, according to disaster response official Baltz Tribunalo, workers could no longer hear any cry for help.
They could no longer hear knocking on wood, which had signified that people were still alive under the pile.
But they were not losing hope as the search continued in the hope of finding any of the 60 persons believed to be still trapped.
Garry Cabotaje, of the Naga City government, told the Inquirer that some families continued to receive messages by SMS or Facebook from loved ones trapped underneath that they were still alive and were waiting to be rescued.
“The affected area is just too vast,” Tribunalo said.
The area hit by the landslide was at least 80 hectares.
“But we’re not giving up,” he added.
Senior Supt. Samuel Tadeo, head of the Bureau of Fire Protection in Central Visayas and ground commander of search and rescue operations, said teams continued to search for bodies in the debris.
Rescuers and retrieval workers focused on a community called Sindulan in the village of Tinaan, where at least 20 houses were buried along with their occupants.
At least 10 bodies lie at the covered badminton court of Naga City, some 21.7 kilometers south of Cebu City.
Julius Regner, information officer of the Cebu Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Office, said eight injured residents had been brought to hospital, while 60 people were still missing.
At least 315 families had evacuated before the disaster struck.
Naga City Mayor Kristine Vanessa Chiong sought to assure families of those who died of the government’s full support.
“This is a tragic event but it is the best time to unite,” Chiong told the Inquirer.
Message from below
Cries for help from underneath some of the buried houses had led retrieval teams to some of the bodies.
Operations to locate survivors and the dead were interrupted by rains and continued movement of soil in the area.
The city government declared a state of calamity covering Tinaan, the worst hit area, and also the villages of Naalad, Mainit, Pangdan and Cabungahan.
Aside from Tinaan, the village of Naalad also lost residents to the landslide. At least five people, including a 4-year-old child, were dead in Naalad where four houses and their occupants were buried.
Three evacuation centers were set up—Enan Chiong Activity Center, Naalad Elementary School and a covered basketball court of APO Cement.
A resident, Jenessa Campanilla, who had been trapped in her buried house, was able to send a chat message to friends and relatives to say she and five other members of her family were alive and waiting to be rescued. Their fate was not clear.
Prior to the disaster, some residents evacuated when it started to rain on Wednesday night for fear of a landslide.
Distraught relatives begged for more backhoes to be brought to the mound of earth and debris, where they hoped loved ones could be pulled out alive.
But there were far too few machines to dig for the dozens of people missing.
Resident Nimrod Parba said one of his trapped relatives called for help about three hours after the landslide hit, entombing 13 of his kin.
“They are still under the rubble, they are still there,” Parba said.
“They are covered in shallow earth, we need a backhoe,” he added.
Authorities have limited the number of rescuers and other people inside the stricken villages, fearing heavy rains on the loose and soaked ground could cause new slides.
Thursday’s landslide also covered part of a river, prompting officials to order a temporary canal to be dug.
At least 270 soldiers and policemen were deployed to prevent residents from returning to high-risk villages, said Chief Supt. Debold Sinas.
President Rodrigo Duterte was expected to visit Naga City on Friday to face his latest crisis.
It’s not clear what set off the landslide, but some residents blamed limestone quarrying, which they suspected may have caused cracks in the mountainside facing their villages. —WITH REPORTS FROM CONNIE FERNANDEZ-BROJAN, DORIS MONDRAGON, ROSALIE ATABAYO, MOREXETTE ERRAM, FUTCH ANTHONY INSO AND ASSOCIATED PRESS