Death from above

By: Jhunnex Napallacan and Rosalie Abatayo September 20,2018 - 11:40 PM

A mother and daughter covered in mud are found embracing each other by rescuers retrieving those who are buried by the massive landslide in Sitio Sindulan, Barangay Tinaan, Naga City, on Sept. 20, 2018. CDN PHOTO/Junjie Mendoza

KILLER LANDSLIDE IN SINDULAN

Alejandro Ravanes was lying on his bed in Barangay Tinaan, Naga City, when he felt the earth shake before 6 a.m. on Thursday. He brushed it aside.

What followed was a nightmare that Ravanes and his neighbors in Sitio Sindulan never imagined possible — a portion of the mountain collapsing and rushing down into about 20 houses below, a horrific scene of death and destruction that residents of Naga City could not even begin to grasp.

Most of the victims were buried in 10-meter deep of eroded soil, with nowhere to escape, with each and debris choking all possible means of exit.

As of 10 p.m., the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) said 18 bodies had been recovered while 16 survivors were brought to the hospital for treatment of their injuries.

The following fatalities have been identified: Althea Siton, 4; Nina Siton, 7; Crystal Jean Siton, 14; Olivia Moral, 63; Anabel Lobiano, 52; Romeo Javanilla, 50; Francisco Yopac, 60; Mark Lawrence Campanilla, 3; Lauro Campanilla, 51; siblings Michael, 16, and Vianca Versales, 19; two female children believed to belong to the Campanilla family; Laura Capoy, 52; Raul Gepuit, 47; and three identified persons.

All the recovered bodies were brought to the St. Francis Memorial Homes in Talisay City.

Even as the sun has descended and darkness has engulfed the landslide site, rescue groups were still working — some of whom were earlier seen using their bare hands to claw through debris — to find survivors. At least 50 more persons remained missing in the most disastrous landslide to hit Cebu in recent years.

Ravanes, 26, his wife Florable and their 3-year-old son were among the lucky ones.

Ravanes recalled that he immediately hugged his wife and their son when his house was covered by pile of soil.

“If we would die, I wanted to hug them,” he said in an interview over radio station dyLA.

Then he heard his son crying out, saying his feet were hurting. Realizing that his son was still alive gave Ravanes the strength to find ways for them to survive.

Ravanes tried to open the door of their room but it wouldn’t move since it was blocked by soil and rocks. He then went to the window, destroyed its jalousies and crawled their way back to the surface. After they safely got out, he heard his brother’s voice underneath the pile of soil, shouting for help. He and his wife immediately dug to where the voice came from and pulled out his brother, Sidney, his sister-in-law and their daughter, Baby Jane, 8.

Analyn Pansoy was in her kitchen preparing breakfast when they heard a loud rumbling sound. She, her husband Raul and daughter Lera rushed out of the house and ran as fast as their feet could take them, with her parents following behind.

To her horror, she saw her mother Loriana Capoy, 58, getting swallowed by the cascading soil. She remained missing, including five of Pansoy’s relatives. Her father, Nestor, survived but was injured.

Pansoy told dyLA that before the tragedy, they had been complaining of the cracks on the side of the mountain slopes above their houses in Tinaan, an interior village about 2.4 km from the city proper of Naga, 22 km south of Cebu City.

She suspected that the quarry operation of the nearby Apo Cement factory might be the culprit, an accusation that the cement company has vehemently denied.

A survivor of the landslide in Sitio Sindulan, Barangay Tinaan, Naga City, stands beside her house that is now buried by soil and rocks. CDN PHOTO/JUNJIE MENDOZA

Nothing to worry about?

Naga City officials sought the help of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) last month to check on the cracks found on the mountainside of Sitio Tagaytay, Tinaan, especially that the cracks appeared to be slowly getting bigger.

On Aug. 29, Gerardo Mahusay of MGB-7 wrote to Naga Mayor Kristine Chiong assuring her that Tinaan was safe and that there was nothing to worry about.

He wrote that the cracks found on Sitio Tagaytay, which adjoins Sindulan, were not related to nearby mining operations.

Mahusay yesterday clarified that his letter was merely based on initial findings of their inspection made on the same day. He was supposed to issue a final report on Thursday based on a second inspection last Wednesday. He didn’t say the content of their final report.

The Naga City government and Tinaan’s barangay officials, however, conducted preemptive evacuation on Wednesday night during a heavy downpour out of fear of a landslide due to the cracks on the mountain slope. At least 350 families heeded the call while others remained in their homes.

True enough, what they feared happened. The landslide occurred at about 6 a.m. on Thursday.

‘Help me’

Armando, a resident of Sitio Sindulan, just came from work when he saw the tragedy that struck his village.

He said cries for help could be heard underneath what used to be the house of Oliva Maratas, prompting him to get a shovel and started digging.

“Help. Please help me,” he heard a woman’s voice pleading. Armando tried to dig fast but it took him and other rescuers two hours to get into Maratas, 63. But by then, she was already dead.

Jenessa Campanilla, one of the residents trapped inside their houses, was still able to send a message to her friends that she and other five members of her family were still inside the bathroom of their house and were waiting for help.

Campanilla, her family and relatives who were living inside their compound however remained missing and were still subject to the search, rescue and recovery operations conducted by private and public emergency response teams in Cebu.

Senior Supt. Samuel Tadeo, regional director of the Bureau of Fire Protection in Central Visayas (BFP-7), said the rescue teams were hoping to recover more survivors than retrieving dead bodies from the disaster site. However, the continuous downpour caused the soil to soften and erode some more, hampering the rescue work.

He said the landslide area was wide and long and big boulders were still moving, making the site dangerous even to rescue teams.

At least 30 emergency and medical response teams from local government units (LGUs), law enforcement groups, public and private groups have converged in Sitio Sindulan to help in the rescue and retrieval operations.

Responders

Among those who responded were the Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management teams of the cities of Mandaue, Cebu, Talisay, Carcar and Toledo.

The towns of Minglanilla, San Fernando, Argao, Ronda and Liloan also showed their support through their LDRRMO while the Regional Mobile Force Battalion of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Central Visayas Central Command (Centcom)  also sent personnel to help in the operations.

The Carmen Copper Corporation and quarry ventures also deployed their rescue team to help in the search and rescue operations.

The teams were divided in four zones in the area for more efficient search and rescue operations.

But while rescuers were hastening their operations, Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7) director Chief Supt. Debold Sinas ordered all the teams to leave the site at about 6 p.m..

Sinas only allowed the police personnel and Centcom details to stay in the area for the night.

The rescuers earlier planned to do a round the clock search and rescue as there could still be a chance to get survivors from under the debris.

Apo Cement: no quarry yet in the area

Apo Cement Inc., in a statement, clarified that their subsidiary had quarry permits near the area where the landslide occurred, they have yet to start operating in Sitio Tagaytay Uno and Sindulan.

“The Apo Land and Quarry Corporation has already acquired a mining rights in the site. But we haven’t operated yet in that area. There were no movements or any operation,” Chito Maniago,

corporate communication head at Apo Cement Inc., said over dyHP Cebu.

Apo Land and Quarry Corp. is the supplier of raw materials to Apo Cement.

He said their company has also held consultations with residents and has advised them to relocate away from the quarry sites.

“In Sitio Tagaytay, we’ve consulted around 20 households together with the office of the city administrator (in Naga City), in order to relocate them,” he said.

He added that on Wednesday evening, they advised residents to evacuate after the residents themselves saw cracks on the land and due to heavy rain.

“We’re one of those who deployed search and rescue personnel immediately when the incident happened. Apo Cement also deployed food packs and water to the affected residents,” Maniago added.

Maniago said they were prioritizing the search and rescue operation, in coordination with the city government and other rescue units such as the Philippine National Police (PNP), Bureau of Fire

Protection (BFP), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) units from neighboring local government units (LGUs).

Help from Davide

Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III rushed to the area and promised to provide evacuees with water and blankets.

Based on the report from the CDRRMO, around 350 families were evacuated to the Enan Chiong Activity Center (ECAC), Naalad Elementary School and Apo Cemex Covered Court, all in the city proper.

“We will also provide funeral assistance to the family of those who died in the incident,” Davide said.

Davide added he would consult with Mayor Kristine Chiong as to the other assistance that the province could provide to the city.

The City Council of Naga has already declared a state of calamity in five barangays: Tinaan, Naalad, Mainit, Pangdan, and Cabungahan. /WITH FUTCH INSO, DORIS C. BONGCAC AND MOREXETTE ERRAM

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