ITOGON, Philippines – A Philippine mayor said Monday that it’s unlikely any of the dozens of people feared buried in a huge landslide set off by Typhoon Mangkhut will be found alive, though rescuers are still digging through the massive mound of mud and debris covering a chapel where they had taken shelter.
Mayor Victorio Palangdan of Itogon town in Benguet province, among the worst-hit by the typhoon that struck Saturday, said there is a “99 per cent” change that the 40 to 50 poor miners and their families thought buried are dead.
Mangkhut is confirmed to have killed 65 people in the Philippines. The storm killed four other people in China, where Mangkhut weakened to a tropical storm as it churned inland Monday.
Palangdan said rescuers have dug out 11 bodies from the landslide, which covered a former miners’ bunkhouse that had been turned into a chapel. Dozens of residents sought shelter there during the storm despite warnings it was dangerous.
“They laughed at our policemen. They insisted,” he said. “They were resisting when our police tried to pull them away. What can we do?”
Hundreds of rescuers armed with shovels and picks, including police and soldiers, searched for the missing in the muddy avalanche along a mountainside as grief-stricken relatives waited nearby, many of them quietly praying. Bodies in black bags were laid side by side. Those identified were carried away by relatives, some using crude bamboo slings.
Jonalyn Felipe said she told her husband Dennis, a small-scale gold miner in Itogon, by cellphone to return to their home in northern Quirino province on Friday as the powerful typhoon blew threateningly close toward the country.
“I was insisting because the storm was strong but he told me not to worry because they’re safe there,” said Felipe, who wept while awaiting word on her husband, who she said was last seen chatting with fellow miners in the chapel before it was hit by the collapsing mountainside.
When she screamed after hearing the news about her husband, their 4-year-old son sensed what had happened and cried too, she said.
Palangdan told reporters that authorities “will not stop until we recover all the bodies.”
In order to prevent such tragedies in the future, Environmental Secretary Roy Cimatu said the government will deploy soldiers and police to stop illegal mining in six mountainous northern provinces, including Benguet.
Philippine officials say that gold mines tunneled by big mining companies and by unauthorized small miners have made the hillsides unstable and more prone to landslides. Tens of thousands of small-time miners have come in recent years to the mountain provinces from the lowlands and established communities in high-risk areas such as the mountain foothills of Itogon.
Mangkhut on Monday was still affecting southern China’s coast and the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan, and rain and strong winds were expected to continue through Tuesday.
On Monday afternoon, Mangkhut was about 200 kilometres (124 miles) west of the city of Nanning in Guangxi region, travelling in a northwesterly direction and weakening as it progressed. There were no new reports of deaths or serious damage.
Life was gradually returning to normal along the hard-hit southern China coast, where high-rises swayed, coastal hotels flooded and windows were blown out. Rail, airline and ferry services were restored and casinos in the gambling enclave of Macau reopened for business.
In Hong Kong, crews were clearing fallen trees and other wreckage left from when the financial hub felt the full brunt of the storm on Sunday.
“This typhoon really was super strong … but overall, I feel we can say we got through it safely,” Carrie Lam, the territory’s chief executive, told reporters.
The Hong Kong Observatory said Mangkhut was the most powerful storm to hit the city since 1979, packing winds of 195 kilometres per hour (121 mph).
The typhoon struck Asian population centres as tropical weather also was devastating the southern U.S. Florence dumped historical levels of rain on North Carolina.
Associated Press journalists Jim Gomez and Cecilia Forbes in Manila contributed to this report.