Wed, 17 Oct 2018
27
Manila

A massive landslide buried dozens of homes in two villages near a central Philippine mountain on Thursday, killing at least four people and sending rescuers scrambling to find survivors after some sent cellphone text messages pleading for help.

The collapse buried about 30 small houses in two villages after daybreak in Naga city in Cebu province. Roderick Gonzales, the police chief of Naga city, told The Associated Press by telephone that rescuers were at the scene and more were coming. It's not known how many people lived in the houses or how many were able to escape.

Seven injured villagers were rescued from the huge mound of earth and debris.

"We're really rushing to save people, time is of the essence, because some victims still managed to send text messages after the landslide," Gonzales told the AP by phone as he helped oversee search and rescue work.

Gonzales added that elderly women and a child were among the dead.

Naga city Mayor Kristine Vanessa Chiong said by telephone that at least 64 people remained missing.

"We're really hoping we can still recover them alive," she said.

The landslide hit while several northern Philippine provinces were still dealing with deaths and widespread damage wrought by Typhoon Mangkhut, which pummelled the agricultural region on Saturday and left at least 88 people dead and 64 others missing. A massive search was still underway for dozens of people feared dead after landslides in the gold-mining town of Itogon in the north.

It's not immediately clear how many residents were trapped in Naga city, where rescuers were treading carefully in small groups on the unstable ground to avoid further casualties.

'We're running out of time'

"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.

The mountain where Thursday's landslide occurred has limestone quarries and the rains may have loosened part of the mountainside.

Cristita Villarba, a 53-year-old resident, told AP by phone that 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 she, her husband and three children were shocked but unhurt.

Outside, she saw the house of her elderly brother, Lauro, and his family was 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.

More than a dozen people live in her brother's home, mostly his family and grandchildren, she said, adding that many small houses in her community got hit.

It's not clear what set off the landslide, but some residents blamed limestone quarries, which they suspect may have damaged and caused cracks in the mountainside facing their villages. Villarba said a light rain stopped when the landslide hit and there was no rain on Wednesday.

The quarry nearest the landslide-hit villages was abandoned about a year ago, but a company still runs a government-authorised quarry not far away and villagers also profit from the limestone business, Angeline Templo, an assistant to the mayor, said by phone.

More than 300 villagers were evacuated from the area for safety as search and rescue work continued, Templo said.

Naga is a coastal city with a population of more than 100 000. Cebu province was not directly hit by Mangkhut but the massive typhoon helped intensify monsoon rains in a large part of the archipelago, including the central region, where Naga city lies about 570km southeast of Manila.

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