Typhoon Mangkhut: time running out for landslide victims as Philippines death toll climbs
Hundreds of rescuers search for survivors as number of dead from storm jumps to 74
Hundreds of Philippine rescuers used shovels and their bare hands Tuesday to sift through a massive landslide, with dozens feared dead in the region worst-hit by Typhoon Mangkhut as the storm’s toll climbed to 74.
The typhoon, 2018’s most powerful, smashed homes and flooded key agricultural regions in the northern Philippines before battering Hong Kong and southern China with fierce winds and heavy rain.
The violent storm killed four in China’s southern province of Guangdong and the toll rose Tuesday to 74 on the Philippines’ northern Luzon island according to police, with that number expected to rise.
Up to 40 people are still feared buried in the landslide in Itogon unleashed on 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 per cent chance that all of them are dead, there is still that 1 per cent chance,” said Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan.
“The rescue effort will continue until the president orders us to stop,” he said.
Because the landslide 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 effort has been getting progressively more difficult because the rain-soaked soil has started to harden in the scorching Philippine sun. Crews have been using water to try to soften up the soil.
The area was primed for disaster before Mangkhut 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 regularly killing people in other gold-rush areas in recent years.
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.
“Of course his death hurts,” said Jocelyn Banawul after her cousin’s corpse was pulled from the debris.
“But he was found, he’s not buried there any more.”
Across northern Luzon, which produces much of the nation’s rice and corn, farms were flattened and flooded, with the authorities saying crop losses would probably total more than US$250 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 US$2 a day.