“Ompong” death toll in Cordillera rises to 72; 66 others missing

ITOGON, Benguet —- The death toll due to Typhoon “Ompong” has risen to 72 in the Cordillera, while 63 others are still missing as of Thursday noon, according to the regional office of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

DILG Regional Director Marlo Iringan, chair of the regional Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, said those confirmed dead were mostly from this mining town with 54, followed by Baguio,11; Mountain Province, 6, La Trinidad, Benguet,3;n and one each from Tuba, Benguet and Kalinga province.

Of the 65 missing persons, 49 are from Itogon; and four are from Baguio City.

Iringan said the number of casualties could rise as authorities continue to receive reports of missing persons.

Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan said 20 bodies have been recovered from the major landslide in Barangay Ucab in this mining town.

Ruben Carandang, Office of Civil Defense-Cordillera Director and chair of the regional DRRM, said the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines sent additional personnel on Wednesday morning to help in the search, rescue, and retrieval operation at the landslide area in Barangay Ucab.

It was learned that since day-one of the landslide, about 200 persons have been helping each other “on ground zero” on a daily basis, digging tons of soil and mud to recover bodies and look for survivors.

“There are over a thousand warm bodies, who are alternately doing the SSR operation,” Carandang said. At present, personnel from the AFP, Philippine National Police (PNP), Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), private volunteers, including miners, are collaborating with each other in the SSR operation in the center of the violent earth movement..

During the briefing, Carandang expressed gratitude to the armed forces for sending five choppers, which are now being used in transporting supplies in areas isolated by the typhoon, which has been described as the most destructive that hit the country.

He said the choppers were also used by local officials for aerial inspection of the landslide area and to look for possible sites, where personnel of the Department of Public Works and Highways can be accessed by a backhoe and heavy equipment for the operation.

Benguet Governor Crescencio Pacalso explained that the heavy equipment will be used in removing the soil that diggers take out from the landslide area to clear the site.

“We cannot use the backhoe to dig for bodies,” Pacalso said. Mayor Palangdan mayor expressed confidence that they can still find survivors under the rubble.

“I am still hopeful that we can still find survivors,” as he said that live animals were found under the collapsed structures.

On Tuesday, Political Adviser and Secretary Francis Tolentino told media that the operation is still a “rescue operation,” relating past experiences in Nepal, China, and other countries, where survivors were still rescued several weeks after being buried underground.

Tolentino was assigned by President Rodrigo Duterte as his point person and emissary in the aftermath of Typhoon Ompong.

Meanwhile, Carandang said forensic experts from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) have already arrived in Itogon.

They will be in charge of processing the dead and conducting possible DNA tests on unidentified bodies.

The military chief said experts would soon start getting samples from relatives of the missing persons to be matched with those of the recovered unidentified bodies.

Dr. Sheilah Mapalo of Baguio City said the central office of the NBI has opted to send two forensic teams. She said the DNA testing is crucial, as decomposition makes the bodies difficult to identify.

It was agreed in the Tuesday meeting that a temporary burial site is identified for unrecognizable bodies, which will be exhumed when the DNA test results come out. She added the bodies will not be released if the families are unsure of getting the remains of their family members. Thom Picana/NPN-northboundasia.com