Landslide victims’ kin brace for worst
MACO, Davao de Oro, Philippines — The number of fatalities in the Feb. 6 landslide at Barangay Masara here climbed further on Sunday, as 19 more bodies were retrieved from the site.
In its 7 p.m. bulletin, the Maco Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office said the death toll was now at 54. Authorities said earlier, as of Saturday noon, that 26 of the fatalities had been identified and their bodies turned over to their kin.
A total of 63 others remain missing, down from 77 a day before, although there was no explanation for why the figure went down.
For four days now, Mary Jane Tandaan has been at the incident command post in Barangay Elizalde, some six kilometers away from Masara, along with other people anxiously awaiting news about their missing relatives.
Located at the foot of steep limestone cliffs, the clump of buildings that served as a mini-hospital has been buzzing with activity as the bodies of landslide victims were brought in for identification.
Tandaan’s eldest son, 25-year-old Joseph, was among those who failed to return home at the end of his shift at Apex Mining Co. Inc. (Amci) on the night of Feb. 6.
“I’m still hoping for a miracle. But I’m preparing myself for the worst,” the 44-year-old mother of two from Golden Valley in Mabini town told the Inquirer.
The combination of mud and boulders that rolled down a mountain following days of heavy rain destroyed houses and buried three buses and a jeepney waiting to pick up Amci employees.
Bea Esmero is also waiting for news about her father, another mine worker, and their family’s breadwinner every time rescue workers arrive from Mascara.
Esmero said a coworker who survived the tragedy told her that her father, Renato, and his supervisor tried to escape through a bus window but were caught in the oncoming rush of mud and rocks. When unearthed by rescuers, the bus yielded no passengers.
Renato, a grade control operator for the mining company, has been driving payloaders and dump trucks for five years.
Amci community relations chief Ferdinand Dobli said the company would assist Esmero, whose mother is sick.
“We have been doing this in the past, not [only during] calamities but in personal cases when the breadwinners died,” he added.
According to Dobli, one of the bus passengers who survived told him that many of his companions panicked when they saw the oncoming landslide. They rushed toward the bus exit, only to be engulfed by a wave of mud.
The survivor said he stayed calm and waited for the rampage of soil and boulders to stop before he forced his way out a window that was not yet covered by debris.
As the search for missing victims continues, the National Bureau of Investigation has stepped in to help identify the bodies found.
“We examine the bodies for fingerprints, possible ID cards left, pieces of jewelry, deformities or body marks,” Dr. Charina Labrador of NBI-Davao said.
Rescuers are aided by sniffer dogs, heavy equipment, and a team of Army engineers from Metro Manila, according to Brig. Gen. Felix Ronnie Babac, commander of the Army’s 1001st Infantry Brigade.
“Once we see an indication that there’s a body under the soil, our soldiers and rescuers, using shovels, carefully clear it and pull the body,” Babac told reporters at the site.
Among the rescuers’ aides is Appa, a dog from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), which helped locate on Friday morning the 3-year-old girl who was pulled out alive from the landslide after close to 60 hours.
Appa, a highly trained member of the PCG’s K9 Search and Rescue Unit, also led the team to three cadavers and a body part.
On Sunday, retrieval operations were affected by rain. The state weather bureau had forecast light to moderate rains over Davao de Oro and Davao Oriental provinces due to easterlies.
On Sunday, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) dispatched two food trucks from Cebu to Agusan del Norte province to assist flooding and landslide victims in Mindanao.
“We sent the two food trucks from Cebu immediately to provide additional hot meals to those affected by the situation in Mindanao,” PRC chair and CEO Richard Gordon said.
Two other food trucks sent by the PRC to Davao de Oro have been distributing hot meals to 1,128 individuals for the past three days. A water tanker has also been operating for the past four days, supplying around 10,000 liters to 248 people in Barangay Elizalde.
PRC secretary general Gwen Pang said they would continue to monitor the situation in the South, adding that “PRC chapters near the affected areas in Mindanao are ready to assist.”
A coalition of Mindanao-based individuals and sectoral groups promoting environment conservation has blamed Amci for the landslide, saying it resulted from the firm’s long-term exploitation and destruction of the environment.
“Despite reporting a staggering net income of P3.34 billion in 2022, the true cost of their operations has been borne by the destruction of the environment and the blood and sweat of local communities. The recent landslide serves as a stark reminder of the recurring disasters linked to irresponsible mining practices, including the 2008 landslides and the 2012 flooding following Typhoon ‘Pablo,’” Panalipdan Mindanao said.