ITOGON (The Philippines) • Philippine rescuers used shovels and their bare hands to claw through mounds of rocky soil yesterday as they desperately looked for dozens of people feared buried beneath a landslide unleashed by Typhoon Mangkhut.
Searchers have already pulled 11 bodies from the vast debris field in Itogon, in the disaster-hit nation's north. Up to 40 may still be buried, with little hope they have survived.
"We believe that those people there, maybe 99 per cent, are already dead," Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan told reporters.
He added later: "It will continue until they (searchers) surrender. There are relatives among the rescuers who are still hoping they will be able to find their kin alive."
A massive hillside, weakened by the monster storm's lashing rain, collapsed on the miners' bunkhouse about half a kilometre below.
Residents of the remote town, in the Cordillera range about 200km north of Manila, had sought refuge in the building to avoid the wrath of Mangkhut.
NOT GIVING UP
It will continue until they (searchers) surrender. There are relatives among the rescuers who are still hoping they will be able to find their kin alive.
ITOGON MAYOR VICTORIO PALANGDAN, on the search effort.
The two-storey structure was an old bunkhouse abandoned by a gold mining firm at an area that has since been settled by small-time miners, Mr Palangdan said.
Recovered bodies were draped in fabric and lined up in a row at a makeshift tent on a nearby road above the bunkhouse.
The rescue efforts came as the official death toll in the natural disaster hit 54.
Meanwhile, initial official estimates indicate that the Philippines lost 250,730 tonnes of padi rice due to the typhoon, exceeding a worst-case forecast by 60 per cent.
The Department of Agriculture initially estimated crop damage at 9.6 billion pesos (S$243 million), but said that may increase as more field reports come in.
"We're looking at about 11 to 12 billion (pesos) in agricultural damage," Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol said in an interview with CNN Philippines. "It's not a nice figure to look at."
The nation's rice crop losses from the typhoon were bigger than the Agriculture Ministry's forecast of up to 157,000 tonnes in a worst-case scenario.
The Philippines, one of the world's biggest rice importers, had been under pressure to boost its stocks of the grain even before Typhoon Mangkhut struck, with soaring retail prices helping to push inflation to its highest in nearly a decade.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS