Philippine Village Searched After Deadly Landslide

Published January 6, 2012 10:18AM (EST)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Authorities resumed searching Friday for victims of a landslide that killed at least 22 people in a remote Philippine gold-mining village where miners work their small-scale claims with pickaxes.

Officials have no good estimate of how many people are missing but say early reports of up to 100 were overblown. Many could have stayed elsewhere for the Christmas holiday, they said, or may have fled their mountainside shanties earlier in the night when the hill started to crumble.

The land fell with a loud whoosh hours before dawn Thursday on a mountain dotted with mine shafts and crude shanties with corrugated metal roofs in Napnapan village in the southern province of Compostela Valley.

"It was like a dump truck unloading gravel and sand," said survivor Darwin Aguinawon, 27. "In only three seconds, our house came rolling down the slope."

It was the area's second deadly landslide in a year — 20 were killed in a neighboring village last April — and prompted the environment secretary to call for curbing permits in the region's small-scale mining industry.

Initial reports of about 100 missing were based solely on the number of shanties believed lost, but many residents would have been on Christmas holiday or evacuated hours earlier when the ground started moving, Pantukan town spokesman Arnulfo Lantayan told The Associated Press.

"We are very confident that it will not reach that number," he said.

The municipal disaster office lowered its earlier death toll of 25, as reported by residents and village leaders, to 22, based on the number of bodies recovered, Lantayan said.

It was difficult to determine the number of missing because local authorities have no reliable records of the mostly migrant miners who work in the area with their families, Civil Defense chief Benito Ramos said.

Army photographs show a steep mountainside that looks like it was gouged by a giant shovel. Houses are buried in rubble or lying on their sides while crumpled metal roofs and trees lay nearby.

One tunnel entrance appeared half-covered by rocks and soil. It was not known how many mine shafts have been blocked by debris or whether there were people inside.

A fissure in the mountain discovered last year likely was aggravated by heavy rains and continuous mining in the saturated ground.

Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje said authorities had warned residents and local officials last year that the fissure made the mountain susceptible to a landslide.

He urged local officials to stop handing out small-scale mining permits, now estimated to number about 3,000 all around the watershed.

By Salon Staff

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