Fri, Jan 06, 2012 - Page 1 News List

Landslide kills at least 25 Filipino gold prospectors

AFP, PANTUKAN, PHILIPPINES

At least 25 people were killed and about 100 others were missing in the southern Philippines yesterday after a landslide struck a community of gold prospectors, officials said.

The landslip hit a remote mountain community on the island of Mindanao that was declared off-limits last year because of the ever-present danger of landslides, but migrants in search of instant riches had ignored the warning, they added.

Rescuers using only spades and other hand tools pulled 25 bodies and 15 injured residents from the rubble after the landslide in Napnapan near the town of Pantukan at dawn, civil defense chief Benito Ramos said.

“A military unit is in the area, but they are basically digging with their hands,” he said.

Local military official Colonel Lyndon Paniza, who is coordinating the rescue from Pantukan in Compostela Valley, about two hours away via rugged mountain roads, said rescuers fear there could be more fatalities.

“We expect many were killed since the worst-hit was the middle, where there are more than 50 shanties,” Paniza said.

The landslide buried an area measuring about 7.5km2 as people slept, Paniza added.

Compostela Valley Governor Arturo Uy said more than 100 people were believed to be still buried under the collapsed mountainside.

However, he said the number of missing was an estimate based on figures from village officials.

The provincial government and local mining firms have been asked to bring heavy equipment up to the village to help local troops speed up the rescue.

The area had been hit by rains unleashed from a storm off Mindanao’s southeast coast, the state weather service said.

Pantukan and nearby Monkayo town have drawn thousands of gold prospectors for years and the largely unregulated mining activities have made the mountainside unstable and caused a series of deadly accidents.

Paniza said another landslide had occurred about 2km away on April 22 last year.

Local officials said that landslide had killed 14 people, while another in 2009 killed 26.

Acting on the advice of national government geologists, local officials ordered all Pantukan gold rush areas evacuated last year.

However, they said some people had returned, possibly joined by new migrants drawn by stratospheric gold prices.

“These are small-scale miners who tunnel into the side of the mountains like rats,” Ramos said.

“This had been declared a no-man’s-land, where people are forbidden to live. Local officials must explain why people are still there despite the national government’s warning,” Ramos told a news conference later.

“It’s obvious that the gold attracts them. We cannot guard the mountain 24/7, because we have other responsibilities,” he said.

The military is fighting a decades-long insurgency in the region and officials say rebels also extort money from the gold prospectors to finance the rebellion.

Uy said the local government had forcibly evacuated the residents after last year’s landslide, when the town council passed an ordinance declaring the gold rush areas “no-habitation” zones.

“But the area is remote and the local government has difficulty monitoring the area,” he told GMA television.

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