By Calvin Cordova and Lesley Caminade Vestil
CEBU CITY – Fifteen persons died when a portion of a mountain collapsed in Barangay Tinaan, Naga City in Southern Cebu, police said Thursday.
The massive landslide happened in SitioSindulan at past 6 a.m. Thursday.
Officials identified five of the fatalities as four-year-old Beatriz Hope Chavez, Olivia Meneses Moral, 63; Ariel Lobiano, 52; Romeo Javanilla, 50; and Sheila Mae Campanilla, 24. The identities of the other fatalitieswere not immediately known.
Julius Regner of the Cebu Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Office said nine were also injured, 315 individuals were evacuated, and 64 remain missing.
Chief Inspector Roderick Gonzales, chief of the Naga Police Station, said at least 20 houses were buried in Barangay Sindulan and another four in Barangay Naalad.
Other areas affected are SitioTagaytay 1 and 2, and Sindulan in Barangay Tinaan.
BaltazarTribunalo, head of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO), said at least 20 to 30 residents are feared to have been buried alive.
“We received a text message from a family asking for help. They were in the comfort room of their house,” said Tribunalo.
Paz Capoy, 52, said she was cooking rice in her neighbor’s house at around 6 a.m. when she heard a loud rumbling sound coming from the hillside portion of the barangay.
Capoy and her neighbors rushed out to check and saw boulders and soil rushing down the mountain and onto several houses.
Among those feared to have been buried alive were Capoy’s two daughters and a grandson, said Tribunalo.
VhannQuisido had a lucky escape when a tide of earth and rocks came to a halt behind his house.
“I was sleeping when I heard a loud noise,” he said by telephone. “I was waiting for the land to come into our house. It was very traumatic.”
CristitaVillarba, 53, 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 was 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, she said, adding that many small houses in her community got hit.
“Even four-story houses are buried,” said John RhayRepuestoEchavez, who also saw the human toll of the slide.
“(My neighbor) was crying right in front of her sister’s house. There was nothing left, not even the rooftop was visible,” he told AFP. “Her sister’s whole family was buried.”
Rescuers were treading carefully in small groups on the unstable ground to avoid further casualties.
“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 by phone.
Emergency response units from various local government units have helped in the search and rescue operations.
More than 300 villagers were evacuated for safety as search and rescue work continued, said Angeline Templo, an assistant to the mayor.
“We are making sure that the needs of the evacuees are being taken care of. I have already instructed our social welfare office to send water, blankets and other basic needs to evacuation centers,” said Cebu Governor HilarioDavide III, who went to site to assess the situation.
Five barangays namely, Tinaan, Naalad, Mainit, Pangdan and Cabungahan, have been placed under state of calamity, said Naga Mayor Kristine Vanessa Chiong.
Gary Cabotaje, information officer of the Naga City Incident Crisis Management, said the Mines and Geosciences Bureau-Central Visayas (MGB 7) discovered cracks in the mountain on August 28, 2018.
In a statement, the MGB 7 said that prior to Thursday’s incident, it had issued advisories to the local government units in the region and advised the public to stay away from danger zones due to intense rainfall occurrence caused by the southwest moonson or habagat as there may be continues movement in the landslide area.
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, Templo said by phone.
Chiong confirmed that she had issued a cease and desist order against a quarry area near the place where the landslide happened.
The mayor, however, refused to talk more on the order she had issued.
“Let’s us focus first on our efforts to help the victims. It is not the best time to point fingers,” said Chiong.
MGB 7 said the heavy rainfall on the night of September 19 and early morning of September 20 may have triggered the landslide.
The area is underlain by limestone rocks and cracks and fissures are common in the area. (With reports from AP, AFP, and Reuters)