NO GIVING UP: 46 bodies recovered, 47 still missing
The chances may be low but the incident management team of the Sitio Sindulan landslide is not losing hope in finding lives under the rubble.
Baltazar Tribunalo Jr., the incident post ground commander and chief of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO), said they will continue with their search, rescue and retrieval operations, at least for the next two or three days.
However, Tribunalo cautioned the relatives that their chances of finding survivors has dimmed as time passes by.
As of their area assessment on Sunday, Tribunalo said the pile of soil in the landslide area already reached a depth of 20 to 30 meters.
“With the amount of debris that surrounded them, it is really hard [to find survivors], but we are not
losing hope,” said Tribunalo.
As of 7 p.m. on Sunday, the search, rescue and recovery operations have already yielded 46 bodies from the landslide area in Sitio Sindulan, which is
referred to as ‘ground zero’ and the tenement of the Apo Land and Quarry Corporation (ALQC) in Sitio Tagaytay.
Chito Mañago, a representative of the ALQC, maintained that they have not started any quarry operation in Sitio Tagaytay when the incident happened.
He earlier said that their personnel and equipment were stationed in the area because of the access roads that they were developing.
Mañago added that the persons found in the area were not employees of ALQC but that of Geo Transport, which is a contractor of the company.
Some 47 persons remain missing, including three Geo Transport employees who were believed to have been covered by the landslide that reached the ALQC tenement.
The number of injured persons has also increased to 10 from previously 9 persons after relatives reported that a certain Geraldine Lapitan was actually rescued on Thursday morning but was not accounted because she was immediately brought to Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) for medical attention.
Sitio Tagaytay was the part of the mountain in Barangay Tinaan that collapsed and covered portions of Sitio Sindulan and Barangay Naalad, which are located at the lower portions of the mountain.
List of missing rises
The number of missing persons was previously reported at 44 but Tribunalo explained that some residents still approached the command posts to inform that they have missing relatives that might have been buried under the eroded soil.
Tribunalo also warned the relatives not to forcibly enter any area of the ground zero and attempt to look for their loved ones without authorized technical personnel.
“We understand that we are all desperate to look for our loved ones, but please do not enter the ground without the technical skills. We cannot afford any more casualty on the ground,” Tribunalo said.
Tribunalo has already asked the Cebu Police Provincial Office (CPPO) to deploy personnel at every possible entry point to the ground zero to prevent anyone from getting in.
CPPO Director Senior Supt. Manuel Abrugena said they have deployed 87 personnel to secure the perimeter of ground zero.
Tribunalo was also positive that they would be able to continue with their round-the-clock search and rescue operations after the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) in the Visayas said on Sunday that skies in Cebu will be clear for the next two days.
Alfredo Quiblat Jr., Chief of Pagasa Mactan, said the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) that has caused rain over Cebu for the past days has dissipated.
However, a new weather system, Tropical Depression Paeng, has entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) at 11 a.m. on Sunday and is expected to enhance the southwest monsoon (Habagat) by Wednesday.
During the press briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Naga City Hall, Quiblat said the track of the tropical depression is headed to Batanes or Taiwan, thus it will not directly affect the weather in Cebu.
As chances grow that the responders will only recover the remains of the landslide victims, Dr. Rene Cam of the National Bureau of Investigation said they will be working on the identification of the bodies that will be recovered.
More woes for evacuees
Meanwhile, the agony of the affected residents did not stop with losing their homes to the landslide.
This is after the Department of Health in Central Visayas (DOH-7) found out that all the water samples from five evacuation areas tested positive for e-coli and fecal coliform contamination.
The water samples were extracted from the Enan Chiong Activity Center, which is the biggest of the evacuation sites, Naga National High School, Naga Central Elementary School, Naalad Elementary School and Apo Cemex Covered Court.
Dr. EM Cañal, a representative of the DOH-7, said they have yet to verify if the contamination was from the water source or only in the container.
Cañal also noted that the water containers in the evacuation areas were placed near the toilet or the open trash bins.
DOH-7 has also conducted water sampling in the other two evacuation centers in Colon Elementary School and the San Fernando Covered Court on Sunday morning.
Cañal said the result of the water samples will be released today.
Cañal warned that e-coli and fecal coliform contaminated water is not potable and not safe even for domestic use like cooking or washing the dishes.
Health officials, meanwhile, asked rescuers engaged in search and retrieval operations to always wear face masks and gloves for their protection.
Dr. Rene Catan, the chief of the Provincial Health Office (PHO), said that local responders of the ongoing search and retrieval operation might acquire infectious diseases brought about from the exposure to decaying tissues if they would not wear protective gears.
“Because we really don’t have a way to determine this other than the pungent smell of decaying tissues, contact with body fluids can put the rescue teams at risk of contracting diseases,” Catan said.
Catan also said the province has deployed medical teams to the area to attend the needs of the rescuers who have been working round the clock for about four days now since the incident happened last Sept. 20.
Jaime Bernadas, the regional director of the Department of Health in Central Visayas (DOH – 7), also advised responders to wear a protective mask, such as the N-95 face masks, as it could not be avoided that they have to endure the foul odor coming from decaying bodies still buried underneath the debris.
“Syempre (Of course), they (have to) wear masks and gloves during the operations. (It is also) automatic (that) they use disinfectants at these sites when unpleasant odor (of) decaying bodies are (smelled),” he said in a text message to Cebu Daily News.
As of 3 p.m. on Sunday, authorities have recovered the bodies of at least 46 persons while around 40 were still unaccounted for.
Shelter and other donations
As this developed, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon Church, has offered its churches in Naga City and Minglanilla as temporary shelters for evacuees from Barangay Tinaan.
This after the Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) and the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (PDRRMO) declared that residents within the one kilometer-radius of ground zero would need to be evacuated.
Evacuees have been distributed to shelter facilities in Enan Chiong Activity Center, Naalad Elementary School, Naga Central Elementary School, Apo Gym, Naga National High School and San Fernando Gym, all in Naga City.
As of Sunday, there were 1,146 families in the evacuation centers, composed of 3,899 individuals.
Butch Colipapa, who leads a rescue team from the Mormon Church, said they expanded their participation after they learned of the need for more shelters for the evacuated families.
He added that members of the Church from all over Cebu and other provinces would be sending donations, which will be channeled to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Dir. Concepcion Ornopia of the Office of the Civil Defence in Central Visayas (OCD-7) said the number of evacuees was expected to rise as there were still many households within the kilometer-radius forced evacuation area.
As to food, social workers and volunteers at the DSWD in Central Visayas said they now have more than enough donations coming from all over Cebu and nearby areas. However, they would still need sleeping and hygiene kits. /WITH CORRESPONDENTS JESSA MAE O. SOTTO AND NORMAN MENDOZA
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