Philippine mines to 'close' after landslide
Government orders shutdown of some of gold-mining tunnels after landslide leaves 34 dead and up to 100 missing.
Last Modified: 07 Jan 2012 22:52

The Philippine government has ordered the shutdown of gold-mining tunnels in the country’s south after a deadly landslide left at least 34 people dead and up to 150 more missing.

Mines that sit in the danger zone will be ordered shut, and the workers and their families living on the mountain on Mindanao island would be relocated, Jesse Robredo, the Philippine interior secretary, said on Friday.

Earlier, rescue operations resumed to search for the missing when a rock and mud avalanche buried a mountainside township of gold prospectors who had refused to leave despite being warned of dangers.

It was the area's second deadly landslide in a year and prompted the environment secretary to call for curbing permits in the region's small-scale gold-mining industry dotted with mine shafts and crude shanties in Napnapan village in Pantukan township.

A group of volunteers prepared to go up the gold rush site to help about 140 soldiers and police there, who resumed the search at dawn as the rains ceased, Lieutenant-Colonel Lyndon Paniza, a local military spokesman, said.

Progress slow

Al Jazeera's Jamela Laindogan, reporting from Manila, the Philippine capital, said progress is slow as the area is very remote and only accessible by trail.

"Officials have said that soldiers and volunteers have started digging again, manually, in search for survivors. They had to halt it yesterday due to heavy rains," she said.


"The difficulty of the area is that it is so remote and only accessible by trail, so it is not easy to bring trucks and equipment."

Government officials expect these operations to continue for the next four days, she said.

"We're not losing hope in our search for survivors. We will not shift to [corpse] retrieval mode until 72 hours had passed," Paniza told the AFP news agency in a telephone interview from Pantukan town, where more rescuers are being mustered.

Rescuers are pushing tubes into the mouths of mine shafts that tunnel into the mountainside in the hope that some trapped miners could still be alive in them, but so far there had been no signs of life, he said.

Thousands of poor Filipinos dig and pan for gold in the area despite the dangers of largely unregulated mining. The tunnels are often unstable and landslides and accidents are common.

The government said the miners had been told to leave the area as early as 2008, but local officials failed to enforce the ban.

'Highly susceptible'

Ramon Paje, the Philippine environment and natural resources secretary, said he had cautioned residents and local officials last year of a fissure on a ridge of the mountain in Mindanao that geologists said was "highly susceptible'' to landslides that could occur anytime.

"We were absolute that it will give in,'' he told AP. "It was a 100 per cent warning. We told them it's just a matter of time."

After the latest disaster, Paniza said the local government ordered the rest of the community of about 1,000 people to leave the area immediately amid concern of more landslips.

"Many of the victims' relatives want to help out in the rescue but they have no knowledge of the proper rescue techniques," Paniza said.

"The area is still critical and we expect other portions to eventually cave in."

The survivors will be forced to relocate to a flatter area about 1.5km away, he said.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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