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article imageFrantic dig for Philippine victims of typhoon landslide

By Purple ROMERO (AFP)     Sep 17, 2018 in World

Philippine rescuers used shovels and bare hands to claw through mounds of rocky soil on Monday in a desperate search for dozens feared buried under a landslide unleashed by Typhoon Mangkhut.

Searchers have already pulled 11 bodies from the vast debris field in Itogon in the disaster-prone nation's north. Dozens may still be buried, with little hope they have survived.

Tearful families surrounded a white board bearing names of the dead and missing as others inspected recovered bodies for signs these could be their loved ones, more than 48 hours since the typhoon hit the north of the country's main island of Luzon.

"We're relieved that it's not him," Joan Catteg, 42, told AFP referring to her missing cousin Harvey, a miner in the area.

"He was at the bunkhouse during Typhoon Mangkhut. He texted his wife not to worry. He said nothing bad will happen to him and that once the rain stops, he will go up. But he hasn't returned until now."

Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan said there were an estimated 40 to 50 people in the area during the landslide.

"We believe that those people there, maybe 99 percent, are already dead," he said.

A hillside weakened by the monster storm's lashing rains collapsed on the miners' bunkhouse about half a kilometre below.

Mangkhut, the world's most powerful storm this year, pounded the Philippines at the weekend with torrential rain and violent winds that snapped utility poles and sheared roofs off homes.

Authorities say 65 are confirmed dead, mostly buried in landslides.

- Excruciatingly slow -

Hundreds of rescuers in rows formed a human chain to pass rocks, debris and tree trunks out of the search area in Itogon.

The massive landslide left a gaping gash in a green hillside studded with small homes topped with rusting metal roofs.

With damaged roads preventing the use of heavy equipment, soldiers, police and miners used shovels and channelled water from a nearby stream to loosen the earth.

It was excruciatingly slow work, with rescuers having to hike down the mountain for an hour before getting to the site.

"In the morning, the sun is too hot, the soil is dry, making it hard to dig," rescuer Allan Drilon told AFP.

"It will be better if we have heavy equipment ... but it's not possible because the path going down is only wide enough for people to pass."

Residents of the remote town, in the Cordillera range about 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of Manila, had sought refuge in the old bunkhouse to avoid the wrath of Mangkhut.

The two-storey structure was abandoned by a gold mining firm in an area that has since been settled by small-time miners, the mayor said.

Black body bags were lined up at a tent on a nearby road above the bunkhouse.

Landslides and flooding elsewhere in the Philippines forced nearly 200,000 people to flee their homes, according to a police tally.

Weeks of heavy monsoon downpours had already left hillsides unstable in the region.

The landslide site in Itogon
The landslide site in Itogon
TED ALJIBE, AFP

Crescencio Bacalso, the governor of Benguet province that includes Itogon, also cited a tragic case in Baguio, the region's largest city, where small-scale miners were helping to find a woman whose house had been buried.

"Unfortunately, there was a second collapse and the responders themselves became victims of a landslide. Six of them managed to crawl out but two others are missing," Bacalso said.

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