By Calvin Cordova and AP
The military and police forcibly evacuated residents of five villages vulnerable to landslides after the collapse of a mountainside buried dozens of homes and killed at least 29 people in Naga City, Southern Cebu.
Chief Superintendent DeboldSinas said Friday some residents had left on their own but the bulk of more than 1,200 villagers were forcibly moved by authorities Thursday night.
In the wake of the massive landslide, the regional director and three other officials of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau-Central Visayas (MGB- 7) have been relieved from their posts.
Likewise, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu announced that quarry operations in Central Visayas, the Ilocos region, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Bicol region, Davao, and Caraga regions are suspended for 15 days.
“The suspension will last until such time that the review and assessment of geohazards are completed,” said Cimatu.
Secretary Roy Cimatu announced the relief of MGB 7 regional director Loreto Alburo after inspecting the landslide area Friday.
Aside from Alburo, likewise relieved were chief geologist Al Emil Berador, Atty. Gerardo Mahusay, chief of MGB 7’s finance administrative division; and supervising geologist Dennis Aleta.
“A team from Manila will arrive to conduct thorough investigation to find out what are the lapses, what happened and how did it happen,” said Cimatu.
A team from Manila will also take over the MGB-7 following the relief of the four key officials.
DENR Undersecretary Benny Anteporda said the relief of the four officials is not an indication that they are at fault.
Survivors recalled hearing a thunderous roar, crashing and banging when the mountainside fell onto rural houses and shanties in Naga City on Thursday morning. Some trapped in the sludge managed to text pleas for help but the messages stopped within a few hours.
Dennis Pansoy, a 41-year-old shipyard worker, had left his wife, two sons and two other relatives in the family home for less than an hour on his way to work when the landslide buried his neighborhood.
Since Thursday, Pansoy has been standing by the mound of more than 20 meters of earth and rocks covering his house and watching rescuers dig slowly with shovels. No heavy equipment had come. Pansoy asked why no one had warned residents to evacuate after cracks were spotted on the mountainside.
“If we had been warned, we would have left,”Pansoy said. “I lost everything after I left the house yesterday (Thursday).”
Nimrod Parba said a trapped relative 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. They are covered in shallow earth, we need a backhoe,”Parba said.
“It is better if they shut down the quarry site. Earthquakes, heavy rains have happened before but we never experienced a landslide in our place. This tragedy happened when quarry operations started,” said Cecil Baldado, whose four relatives were among the fatalities. Other relatives of Baldadoremain missing.
Baldado said her family was fortunate to have evacuated before the landslide struck.
The discovery of the cracks in the mountain prompted some residents to relocate to another place.
EpifanioHemperoa, whose niece died in the incident, said they are hoping that Apo Land and Quarry Corporation (ALQC) will assist them.
“For me what happened was an accident. We cannot do about it but I hope they will help us,”Hemperoa said.
Some residents are also against calls to shut down ALQC.
“ALQC provides employment. Thousands depend on Apo and closing it down will affect us,” said MaritesBasalo.
Around 200 police, firemen, and specialists using heavy equipment were still looking for about 50 people, said Julius Regnerof the Cebu Risk Reduction Management Office.
“We hope to recover everyone today so as not to prolong the agony of the relatives,” he added.
Cebu was not directly hit by Typhoon “Ompong” (international name Mangkhut), the world’s strongest typhoon this year, but has been pounded by heavy monsoon rain for days, making the slopes dangerously loose.
Authorities are limiting the number of rescuers and other people inside the stricken villages, fearing heavy rains on the still-soaked ground could cause new slides.
Naga City police chief Roderick Gonzales said elderly women and a child were among the dead.
Naga City Mayor Kristine Vanessa Chiong said at least 64 people remained missing.
“We are still hoping that there are still survivors. We will not stop until all will be found. What we are doing is search, rescue, and retrieval operation,” said Chiong.
“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.