Davao de Oro

Families face uncertainty as search continues for 49 missing in Davao de Oro landslide

Herbie Gomez, Ferdinand Zuasola

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Families face uncertainty as search continues for 49 missing in Davao de Oro landslide

DISASTER. The landslide in Masara, Maco in Davao de Oro, as seen during an aerial inspection on February 7, 2024.

Office of the Presidential Assistant for Eastern Mindanao

(1st UPDATE) As the death toll rises to 10, search and rescue workers race against time as they resume operations to look for signs of life at the mining village of Masara in Maco town, Davao de Oro

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Mournful cries of grief and pain reverberated in the village of Elizalde in Maco, Davao de Oro, where disaster responders set up camp. There, families anxiously awaited word about their relatives who went missing following a landslide on Tuesday, February 6.

Search and rescue workers are racing against time as they resumed their operations on Thursday morning, February 8, continuing to look for signs of life at the mining village of Masara in Maco town, Davao de Oro, where four dozen people remain missing after the environmental disaster.

At least 49 people were reported missing and feared buried in mud and rocks that devastated the community in Masara. As of 2:30 pm on Thursday, February 8, the town government counted three more retrieved bodies, bringing the death toll to 10, and 31 people injured.

The provincial government said there were 758 families who fled to evacuation centers in Maco town as of Wednesday afternoon.

Maraming pa ang nasa ilalim (Many more are buried underneath),” Marlon Tinanac, barangay chairman of Panibasan, Maco, said in an ABS-CBN interview.

He said the landslide destroyed the barangay hall and many houses in the village.

EMERGENCY. Rescuers rush a woman, injured due to a landslide in Masara, Maco, Davao de Oro, to a hospital. Photo courtesy of Provincial Government of Davao de Oro

Wilfredo Pelones, the father of one of those reported missing, said he was worried that the rain would worsen the situation by triggering more landslides.

Matabunan na pud samot (They’ll get buried deeper even more),” Pelones said, adding that the long wait and uncertainty were becoming unbearable for him.

Search and rescue operations had to be suspended on Wednesday due to the threat of more landslides caused by days of rain, according to Jiesyl Tan, spokesperson of the group overseeing the disaster response efforts.

Davao de Oro Governor Dorothy Gonzaga blamed the landslide on the effects of a shear line and trough of a low pressure area that brought continuous rain to provinces in the Davao region and other parts of Mindanao.

A pregnant Melanie Retiza waited, breaking into tears as the announcement came about the decision to halt the search and rescue operations on Wednesday afternoon.

Retiza held onto a t-shirt, which she said her missing brother, a mining engineer, ordered from her so he could help her augment her income. Her plan was to personally give it to him had he been found alive that day.

“He thought I had no savings,” she recounted in Bisaya in an interview with state-run television PTV-4.

The local government ordered forced evacuations of hundreds of families living in communities near the site of the Masara landslide – the same area where a similar landslide took place 15 years ago – because the soil has become unstable due to the rain. It also suspended classes in all of Maco town.

Many families, however, evacuated to safer grounds without being instructed by their local government.

“We were so terrified that we fled,” Rosie Lumangtad recounted as the landslide wrecked the barangay hall and houses, burying beneath mud and rocks at least three 60-seat buses and a 30-person capacity vehicle carrying workers of the Apex Mining Corporation.

In the days leading up to the Masara disaster, smaller landslides had occurred across the province, slowing down disaster response and relief operations as roads became impassable due to mud and debris.

Gonzaga said the previous landslides affected many families in the villages of Cagan in New Bataan town, Bahi and Langgawisan in Maragusan town, Diwalwal in Monkayo town, and Anitapan in Mabini town.

The Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office said more families had to be evacuated a day after the Maco town landslide in the villages of Masara, Mainit, Tagbaros, Elizalde, and Panibasan.

The families are being cared for in temporary shelters set up in Upper Elizalde, Andili High School, Nuevo Iloco High School, and church facilities.

In a statement, Apex Mining said it has so far accounted for 62 of its workers, and is tracing the whereabouts of 45 others.

The mining firm also claimed that the landslide happened in an area outside the mining site where it has been operating, and that it had merely served as a terminal for vehicles used by its workers. –Rappler.com

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