MANILA, Philippines — A landslide set off by heavy rains came crashing down into homes at the foot of a mountain in Naga City, Cebu yesterday, and dozens of people are feared buried.
Initial reports said at least 15 people were killed and eight were rescued, including a minor, from the debris.
The collapse buried about 30 small houses in Sitio Sindulan, Barangay Tinaan after daybreak.
Chief Inspector Roderick Gonzales, Naga City police chief, said search teams were able to rescue seven from the huge mound of earth and debris.
Some victims still managed to send text messages after the landslide hit, Gonzales said, adding elderly women and a child were among the dead.
There were signs of life. Some of them managed to send text messages (asking for help),” Gonzales said.
Gonzales identified four of the fatalities as Olivia Moral, 63; Abel Labiano, 40; Romeo Jabonilia, 40, and four-year-old Beatrice Hope Chavez.
Gonzales said they are verifying reports that at least 40 people are buried in the muck.
Naga City Mayor Kristine Vanessa Chiong said at least 64 people remained missing.
“We’re really hoping we can still recover them alive,” she said.
Rescuers were treading carefully in small groups on the unstable ground to avoid further casualties. Injured survivors were wheeled into the back of ambulances and the dead were laid on pews at a local church.
“We’re running out of time. The ground in the area is still vibrating. We’re striking a balance between intensifying our rescue efforts and ensuring the safety of our rescuers,” Naga City Councilor Carmelino Cruz said.
The Office of Civil Defense (OCD) confirmed at least 64 people are missing in the landslide.
“There are 64 missing. Six are (initially) confirmed dead. Nine were injured… these are minor injuries,” OCD spokesman Julius Regner said.
“There are more than 100 rescuers on the site. They are using backhoes (excavators) and other heavy equipment,” he added.
The regional OCD said landslides are fairly rare in Cebu.
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.
The quarry nearest the landslide-hit villages was abandoned about a year ago, but a company still runs a government-authorized quarry not far away and villagers also profit from the limestone business, according to Angeline Templo, assistant to mayor Chiong.
Templo added more than 300 villagers were evacuated for safety as search and rescue work continued.
The Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) said the landslide occurred at the site where it has limestone quarries and the rains may have loosened part of the mountainside.
The PDRRMO said the site had been identified as a landslide prone area. It added the local disaster office had initially warned residents to evacuate in the event of heavy rains.
Days before, local residents reportedly noticed cracks on top of the mountain where the quarry of Apo Cement is located.
Chiong was notified and in turn, issued a cease and desist order to stop the quarrying activities.
It was not immediately known if the order was enforced as the site was inspected two days ago by officials of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Barangay Tinaan chairman Teodoro Cantal Jr. told dzMM that the buried houses are located near the quarry site.
He said the residents had been advised to evacuate two weeks ago after cracks were seen on the ground.
PDRRMO spokesman Baltazar Tribulano said it was raining heavily over Naga City since Wednesday.
“There’s an ongoing quarry operation which is quite far from the actual landslide area but apparently because of the heavy rainfall, the soil became so saturated and subsequently caved in towards the villages (going) down,” Tribulano said.
Cristita Villarba, a 53-year-old resident in the area, said the rain stopped when the landslide hit and there was no rain on Wednesday.
She said 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, including my brother’s,” she said.
More than a dozen people live in her brother’s home, mostly his family and grandchildren, Villarba said, adding that many small houses in her community got hit.
Malacañang condoled with the families of the victims of the Naga landslide and promised to find ways to prevent similar disasters.
“Expect the government to do everything to alleviate the grief of the victims. We will see how we can prevent such occurrences in the future,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
Naga is a coastal city with a population of more than 100,000. Although Cebu province was not directly hit by Ompong, the massive typhoon helped intensify monsoon rains in a large part of Central Visayas.
Ompong pounded Northern Luzon on Saturday and left more than 80 people dead and 70 missing, mostly in landslides. – AP, AFP, Lorraine Mitzi Ambrad/The Freeman, Emmanuel Tupas, Alexis Romer