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Frantic dig for Philippine typhoon victims

Mangkhut leaves dozens dead in the Philippines

ITOGON: A general view shows the landslide site due to heavy rains brought by Typhoon Mangkhut in Itogon, Benguet province. —AFP

ITOGON, Philippines: Philippine rescuers used shovels and bare hands to claw through mounds of rocky soil yesterday 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 kilometer 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 channeled 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 kilometers 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. 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.

Massive clean-up
Meanwhile, Hong Kong began a massive clean-up yesterday after Typhoon Mangkhut raked the city, shredding trees and bringing damaging floods in a trail of destruction that left dozens dead in the Philippines and millions evacuated in southern China. The death toll in the Philippines, where the north of the main island of Luzon was mauled by fierce winds and rain, reached 65. It was expected to rise further as frantic rescuers pulled bodies from a massive landslide in the mountain town of Itogon.

The landslide buried an emergency shelter which was being used by miners and their families. Eleven bodies have been pulled from the rubble and up to 40 more may still be trapped. Relatives of the buried were among those digging with shovels and their bare hands in an increasingly desperate attempt to find survivors. “We believe that those people there, maybe 99 percent, are already dead,” the town’s mayor Victorio Palangdan told reporters. More than 155,000 people remain in evacuation centers in the Philippines two days after the typhoon struck, said national police spokesman Benigno Durana.
Farms across northern Luzon, which produces much of the nation’s rice and corn, were under muddy floodwater, their crops ruined just a month before harvest. After tearing through Luzon and pummeling Hong Kong and Macau, the storm made landfall in mainland China late Sunday. It killed four in Guangdong province, including three hit by falling trees. Authorities there said they had evacuated more than three million people and ordered tens of thousands of fishing boats back to port before the arrival of what Chinese media dubbed the “King of Storms”.

In the high-rise city of Hong Kong, the government described the damage as “severe and extensive” with more than 300 people injured in Mangkhut, which triggered the maximum “T10” typhoon alert. The monumental task of cleaning up the city began as residents, some in suits and ties, struggled to get back to work on roads that remained blocked by felled trees, mud and debris. Bus services were halted and commuters piled onto platforms trying to board infrequent trains after trees fell on overhead power lines. Schools will remain closed through today. Landslides and severe flooding affected some areas, with over 1,500 residents seeking refuge in temporary shelters overnight.

Floods and debris
The storm, with gusts of more than 230 kilometers per hour, sent buildings swaying and waters surging into homes and shopping malls in Hong Kong, with some roads waist-deep in water. Windows in tower blocks and skyscrapers were smashed as people cowered inside. In the neighborhood of Heng Fa Chuen, thousands of rocks and pebbles from the sea covered parkland along the coastline which had been battered by waves.

Low-lying fishing villages were also badly affected after seawater swept through. Streets in the seaside village of Lei Yue Mun were covered in debris and glass as residents picked their way through. The city’s main Victoria Park beaome an obstacle course with hundreds of trees down and many completely uprooted. Emergency teams were sawing up some of the biggest trees blocking roads and pathways in a clean-up operation that is likely to take days. In the neighboring gambling enclave of Macau, all 42 casinos shut down for the first time in its history as the storm approached.- Agencies

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