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Philippines searches for landslide victims
A day after mudslide buried up to 150 people on Mindanao, killing at least 31, search resumes as heavy rains cease.
Last Modified: 06 Jan 2012 14:02
The mudslide burried a community of unregulated gold miners who had been warned of the dangers

Rescuers in the Philippines have resumed the search for up to 150 people who remained missing a day after a deadly landslide buried a remote gold mining community in the country's south, the military have said.

At least 31 people were killed on Mindanao island before dawn on Thursday when a rock and mud avalanche buried a mountainside township of gold prospectors who had refused to leave despite being warned of dangers.

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, local military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Lyndon Paniza said.

Al Jazeera’s Jamela Laindogan, reporting from Manila, the 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," said Laindogan. 

"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 conceded.

Meanwhile, the government on Friday ordered the shutdown of mining tunnels in Pantukan township.

Authorities are expect to complete a survey next week that will indicate where landslides are likely to happen.

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

Danger warnings

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.

Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje said he had warned residents and local officials last year of a fissure on a ridge of the mountain that geologists said was "highly susceptible'' to landslides that could occur anytime.

"We were absolute that it will give in,'' he told the AP news agency. "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 added.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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