Race on to save 9 buried workersBy Connie E. Fernandez, Joey A. Gabieta
ORMOC CITY—Intermittent rains and unstable grounds are hampering the search and rescue efforts for nine workers buried in a landslide that hit a mountain village at the geothermal complex of the Energy Development Corp. (EDC) in Kananga town, Leyte.
Rescue teams from EDC, the Ormoc City government and the Philippine Army are racing against time in their search for survivors of Friday’s landslide which killed five workers and injured 21.
The nine missing were identified as Abelardo Permanghel, Marlon Buanghog, Uldarico Taboranza, Salvador Yabana, Jorden Salcedo, Romeo Yazar, Salvador Lascañas Jr., Alfredo Arabis and Danilo Mabatis.
Although the chances of finding survivors more than 24 hours after the landslide were slim, rescuers and EDC officials remained hopeful.
“Even if the chances are becoming low, we are still hoping. I am just crossing my fingers that we can still get survivors,” said Albert Ignacio, senior vice president of First Balfour, EDC’s project contractor.
He said the search and rescue operation, which resumed on Saturday morning, would continue for five more days.
Federico Lopez, chair and chief executive officer of First Philippine Holdings Corp. which partly owns EDC, gave instructions to recover all the missing workers, said Kananga Mayor Elmer Codilla.
He said Lopez also assured the families of the victims of financial assistance as well as employment for other members of their families.
Lopez arrived at the EDC complex on Saturday morning to assess the situation and talk to local officials.
“We, the local government unit, were happy that he came here and talked with us. He was different. He was very sincere,” said Codilla. He said they appreciated that EDC had pulled out all the stops in the search and rescue operations.
Codilla reiterated that the landslide was an accident triggered by intermittent rains that had loosened the soil.
Concrete shelter for pipes
A portion of the mountain gave way and fell on the workers who were building a concrete shelter for the steam pipes at EDC’s Pad 403 in Upper Mahiao, Barangay Lim-ao, about 10 kilometers from the Kananga town proper.
At the time, 45 workers were at the project site. They had been hired by JE Arradaza Construction which in turn had been contracted by First Balfour to supply equipment, labor, materials and other resources to the project.
First Balfour is EDC’s contractor although First Balfour subcontracted some of the work that was in its contact with EDC.
Ignacio said they were building a pipe shelter to protect the steam pipes from landslides since these were located below mountainous slopes.
Dave Devilles, EDC information officer, said that during the landslide, one of the steam pipes burst after it was hit by falling debris.
Devilles said the affected steam pipe was “contained” and didn’t hamper the operations of EDC.
The five workers who were killed were identified as Etchield de la Austria, Bonifacio Polinio, Edgardo Cabarsi Sr., Belly Abella and Joey Milay.
Devilles said the company would shoulder burial and hospitalization expenses and would provide financial assistance to the families of both the victims and survivors.
Lt. Col. Joel Nacnac, commander of the 19th Infantry Batallion, said most of the fatalities were recovered near the surface.
He said rescuers, including 20 Army personnel, continued to look for the nine missing workers although they knew that they were racing against time.
First Balfour resumed rescue and retrieval operations at 8:30 a.m. yesterday in the area where the landslide occurred.
“We shall continue to do all that we can in the hope that we can still rescue survivors from under the rubble. But we recognize that the possibility is low given the site conditions we are seeing,” Ignacio said.
He said the unstable conditions at the landslide site had highlighted the need to focus on ensuring that the rescue effort would not endanger more lives.
The company said 10 workers had been brought to a hospital, of whom two had been discharged after being treated for minor injuries. Eight, however, remained under medical care.