A massive landslide buried dozens of homes near a central Philippine mountain, killing at least 21 people and sending rescuers scrambling to find survivors after some sent text messages pleading for help.
The slide surged down on about 30 houses in two rural villages after daybreak in Naga city in Cebu province on Thursday, city police chief Roderick Gonzales said by telephone as he helped supervise the search-and-rescue operation.
Naga city Mayor Kristine Vanessa Chiong said at least 64 people remained missing.
According to The Freeman, a Cebu-based newspaper, at least 15 people suffered injuries following the incident.
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Some victims managed to send messages from their mobile phones after the landslide hit, Gonzales said, adding elderly women and a child were among the dead.
Nimrod Parba, a 26-year-old resident, said a relative trapped in a house beneath the rubble managed to call on Thursday morning and begged to be rescued. The calls stopped, however, and the relative could not be reached hours later, Parba said.
“We’re really hoping we can still recover them alive,” Chiong said, adding the area where the landslide happened was used as a housing site for quarry workers.
According to ABS-CBN News website, at least 500 families in the area were forced to evacuate.
The landslide hit while several northern Philippine provinces were still dealing with deaths and widespread damage wrought by Typhoon Mangkhut, which pummeled the agricultural region on Saturday, and left at least 88 people dead and more than 60 missing.
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A massive search was still under way for dozens of people feared dead after landslides in the gold-mining town of Itogon on the northern island of Luzon.
Cebu province was not directly hit by Mangkhut, but the massive typhoon intensified monsoon rains across a large part of the archipelago, including the central region where Naga lies, about 570km southeast of capital Manila.
Rescuers were treading carefully in small groups on the unstable ground to avoid further casualties.
“We’re running out of time. The ground in the area is still vibrating. We’re striking a balance between intensifying our rescue efforts and ensuring the safety of our rescuers,” Naga city Councilor Carmelino Cruz said by phone.
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Cristita Villarba, a 53-year-old resident, said her husband and son were preparing to leave for work when the ground shook and they were overwhelmed by a roar.
“It was like an earthquake and there was this thundering, loud banging sound. All of us ran out,” Villarba said, adding that she, her husband and three children were shocked but unhurt.
Outside, she saw the house of her older brother, Lauro, and his family buried in the landslide.
“Many of our neighbours were crying and screaming for help. Some wanted to help those who got hit but there was too much earth covering the houses, including my brother’s,” she said.
Nearly 20 people lived in her brother’s home, mostly his family and grandchildren, she said.
Villarba said she had felt sorry a few days earlier for the landslide victims in the country’s north.
“I had no idea we would be the next,” she said.
It wasn’t clear what set off the landslide, but some residents blamed limestone quarries, which they suspect may have caused cracks in the mountainside facing their villages.
The nearest quarry was abandoned about a year ago, but another government-authorised quarry is still operating not far away, and villagers also profit from the limestone business, said Angeline Templo, an assistant to the mayor.
The Philippines is one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries. It is lashed by about 20 storms each year and is located in the Pacific “Ring of Fire” that is vulnerable to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.