55 dead in Philippines landslide that buried a village

MANILA — At least 55 people died and 32 were injured in one of the southern Philippines’ deadliest landslides in recent years, the government of Davao de Oro province said on Monday.

Search and retrieval operations are still underway for dozens more missing after the landslide that took place Tuesday night on the southern island of Mindanao in the mining town of Maco, some 600 miles south of the capital, Manila. The death toll is expected to rise as the government verifies more dead and missing. A local official said during a live-streamed news conference late Monday afternoon that of the bodies that have been recovered, five were unidentified, and that 51 people are still unaccounted for.

The landslide swept away three buses and a Jeepney carrying miners, and buried a village, according to authorities. The region was inundated by floods in the past week, hampering rescue operations. One of the survivors identified in recent days includes a 3-year-old girl.

In a statement Monday, the U.S. Agency for International Development said it is providing 70 million Philippine pesos, or $1.25 million, in humanitarian aid for communities hit by flooding and landslides in Davao de Oro and surrounding provinces on Mindanao.

The miners in the buses and Jeepney worked for the Philippine company Apex Mining, which operates a gold mine in Maco. The company said in a statement Saturday that it was assisting the government with relief and rescue operations.

“The company is deeply saddened by this tragedy and we can only imagine the pain that the families of the missing and the dead are going through,” said Luis Sarmiento, the president and CEO of Apex Mining.

Environmental groups have called for an independent investigation into the mining company. However, as of Saturday, government officials have attributed the landslide primarily to heavy rainfall. The Mines and Geosciences Bureau said the affected area is outside the mining site, although the company’s transport vehicles were “temporarily stationed” there.

Landslides had already taken place there in 2007 and 2008, according to local officials, but residents eventually moved back to be closer to their work, believing it was safe. Around 21 died in the last landslide, Edward Macapili, the executive assistant for communications for Davao de Oro, told The Washington Post.

“There is a policy that this is a no-build zone,” Macapili told radio station Teleradyo Serbisyo on Saturday. “After 2008, people went back and it was tolerated by the previous administration of the provincial government of Davao de Oro and Apex Mining itself.”

The vulnerability of communities in hazard-prone areas is a common issue in the Philippines, an archipelago that is racked by such various disasters as earthquakes and typhoons.

“People should not have been allowed to settle in that place, and there is no excuse for all who are responsible for allowing it,” said Mahar Lagmay, executive director of the Resilience Institute at the University of the Philippines. Lagmay urged the government to follow international guidelines on risk assessment and hazard mapping, not just for identifying danger zones, but for spotting livable areas, too.

Extensive rainfall in the southern Philippines impacted more than a million people in the past week, leaving hundreds of thousands displaced, the U.S. Embassy in Manila said.

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