Rescue workers frantically clawed through mud and dirt in search of survivors [Reuters]

Philippine rescuers have continued the frantic search for more survivors a day after a landslide buried workers in mining tunnels in a gold-rich area in the south.

But officials are losing hope of finding survivors among the 21 still missing, believed to be buried in a landslide that killed at least three people on Friday, including a 16-year-old miner.

The disaster hit Kingking village near Pantukan town in Compostela valley province on the island of Mindanao just before dawn on Friday, burying people under mud, rocks and rubble.

The number of people found alive rose to 15 on Saturday as some miners were recovered from a tunnel by diggers clawing through mud and dirt overnight.

Arturo Uy, the Compostela Valley governor, said the shanties and tents where miners and their family members were sleeping have been buried under about 25-30 metres of mud, soil, rocks and other debris from Friday's pre-dawn landslide.

Uy said on Saturday he will recommend a 30-day suspension of small-scale mining in Kingking while geologists determine whether it is still safe for miners.

Liza Mazo, the regional civil defence chief, on Saturday said that the depth of collapsed earth has lowered the prospect of finding more survivors.

"We are pessimistic. It is difficult [to dig] because the landslide is 15 to 20 metres deep," she told AFP.

On Friday, Lieutenant-Colonel Camilo Ligayo, a spokesman for a military unit aiding the site, said residents had told him at least 40 people were missing and feared buried in the tunnels and their homes.

"There are 40 still missing and that is a conservative estimate. The one who gave the estimate was one of the survivors from the tunnels. They know each other there," he told the AFP news agency.

"The landslide is massive and these people, the small scale miners, they work and live on the slopes. They have bunkers, houses, stores."

Safety concerns

It is difficult to pinpoint exact numbers for the missing because of the transient nature of mining work that draws people into the area.

The landslide covered numerous illegal, small-scale gold mines on the mountainside in Kingking, including mining tunnels, houses, stores and gold processing mills.

At the Pantukan town hall, which serves as a makeshift command centre for the disaster, more civil defence workers and soldiers departed on Saturday, carrying shovels for the hour-long ride to the landslide site.

"Time is of the essence but we are doing our best to recover the missing," Major Jake Obligado, a commander of a battalion engaged in the rescue effort, said.

Shanty towns have grown around Kingking following a gold rush in the area around two decades ago. Many of the mining operations are illegal and unregulated.

Two years ago, a similar landslide in another part of the village killed more than 20 people, including some children.

Residents had been ordered to relocate due to the instability of the land and higher risks of landslides.

The Philippines is said to sit on an estimated $1 trillion untapped mineral deposits, but has only targeted to attract $1bn in mining investment this year.

Source: Agencies