By Purple Romero
Hundreds of rescuers used shovels and their bare hands Tuesday to sift through a massive landslide where dozens are feared dead in the region worst-hit by deadly Typhoon “Ompong” (international name: “Mangkhut”) as the storm’s toll hit 74.
The storm, 2018’s most powerful, smashed homes and flooded key agricultural regions in Northern Luzon before battering Hong Kong and southern China with fierce winds and heavy rain.
Hong Kong was still struggling to get back on its feet on Tuesday with a massive cleanup operation to clear broken trees, repair torn-up roads and fix damaged power lines.
The violent typhoon killed four in China’s southern province of Guangdong and the toll climbed on Tuesday to 74 in the Philippines, with the number expected to rise.
Up to 40 people are still feared buried in the landslide in Itogon, unleashed Saturday as the typhoon stalled over the area and dumped a month’s worth of rain in a matter of hours.
“While I said there is a 99-percent chance that all of them are dead, there is still that 1-percent chance,” local Mayor Victorio Palangdan said.
“The rescue effort will continue until the President orders us to stop,” he said.
Because the slide destroyed roads, authorities have been unable to bring heavy equipment into the area to accelerate the search. As a result the teams were using human chains to extract debris.
The area was primed for disaster before Ompong hit, as it came on the heels of nearly a month of continuous monsoon rains that left the already hazardous area soggy and dangerously loose.
Almost all the storm’s victims were killed in dozens of landslides unleashed along the Cordillera mountain range, a key gold mining area.
Many of those buried in Itogon were small-scale gold miners and their families who took refuge in a building abandoned by a large mining firm.
The Philippines has a poor record of regulating mining, with tunnel collapses and landslides in recent years regularly killing people in other gold-rush areas.
Tearful families surrounded a whiteboard bearing names of the dead and missing as others inspected recovered bodies in an attempt to identify their loved ones.
“We found peace that his body has been found. We can’t really do anything, it was an accident. Maybe this is God’s will,” Teresa Buucan said after her nephew’s corpse was pulled from the debris.
Across Northern Luzon, which produces much of the nation’s rice and corn, farms were under muddy floodwater. Farmers were seeing what of their crops could be saved, however, it appears the losses will total more than $100 million.
That could add to the Philippines’ inflation woes and worsen a spike in rice prices that has hit hard for the nearly quarter of the nation’s population that survives on less than $2 a day.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said the number of families affected by Ompong has reached 218,492.
In its 6 am update on Tuesday, the NDRRMC stated that this is equivalent to 893,844 persons living in 3,237 barangays in the Ilocos region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, National Capital Region and the Cordillera Administrative Region.
Of the figure, 43,603 families or 162,399 persons are being assisted in 1,780 evacuation centers while 18,106 families or 73,661 individuals are being aided outside.
Also, a total of 215 road sections and five bridges were affected in the Ilocos region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Bicol, and CAR.
Followup reports showed that a total of 96 road sections and one bridge are now passable as of Sept. 17.
Flooding was also reported in 229 areas in Ilocos, Central Luzon, Calabarzon and Mimaropa as of Sept. 17. Floods had subsided in at least 35 areas out of the number.
A total of 1,264 houses were reported damaged, 130 totally and 1,134 partially, in the regions of Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon and CAR.
Damage to agriculture was placed at P9.36 billion in Cagayan Valley and CAR alone.
The number of affected farmers in the Cordillera was placed at 171,932, the NDRRMC added. AFP and PNA
The Department of the Interior and Local Government, meanwhile, said 10 mayors who were missing in action during Ompong face investigation for negligence.
“We are now doing a review of their performance and we are determining if there were indeed absent mayors when the typhoon came,” DILG spokesman Assistant Secretary Jonathan Malaya said.
“Local chief executives who will be found negligent will be held accountable,” he added.
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