Landslide in Davao de Oro, Philippines, kills 55; dozens are still missing

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

Search and rescue operations are still underway for dozens more missing after Tuesday night’s landslide on the southern island of Mindanao in the mining town of Maco, about 600 miles south of the capital. , Manila. The death toll is expected to rise as the government confirms that more are dead and missing. A local official said during a live press conference late Monday afternoon that of the bodies recovered, five remain unidentified and 51 remain unaccounted for.

The landslide swept away three buses and a jeepney carrying miners and buried a village, according to authorities. The area was inundated by floods last week, hampering rescue operations. A 3-year-old girl is one of those who survived the last few days.

In a statement on Monday, the US Agency for International Development said it is providing about $1.25 million in humanitarian aid to communities hit by floods and landslides in Davao de Oro and the surrounding areas around Mindanao.

The miners in the buses and the jeepney, a long jeep-like vehicle widely used for public transportation, were working for the Philippine company Apex Mining, which operates a gold mine in Maco. The company said in a statement on Saturday that it was supporting the government with relief and rescue work.

“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, president and CEO Apex Mining.

Environmental groups have called for an independent investigation into the mining company. However, as on Saturday, government officials blamed the landslide mainly on heavy rain. The Bureau of Mines and Geology said the affected area is outside the mine site, although the company’s transport vehicles were “temporarily stationed” there.

Landslides occurred there in 2007 and 2008, according to local officials, but residents eventually moved back to be closer to their work, believing it was safe. About 21 died in the latest landslide, Edward Macapili, 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 accepted by the previous administration of the Davao regional government de Oro and Apex Mining itself.”

The vulnerability of communities in risk-prone areas is a common issue in the Philippines, islands that are ravaged by such disasters as earthquakes and typhoons.

“People should not be allowed to settle in that place, and there is no excuse for all those 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 regarding risk assessment and hazard mapping, not only to identify danger zones but also to see vulnerable areas.

Heavy rains in the southern Philippines have affected more than a million people in the past week, leaving hundreds of thousands displaced, the US Embassy in Manila said.

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