Search for missing in Philippines landslide

Up to 19 people are believed trapped by rocks and mud in Kingking district.

Manila: Rescuers used diggers and bulldozers to search for up to 19 people believed trapped by rocks and mud after a landslide hit a remote gold-rush area in the Philippines, officials said.

The official death toll from Friday`s disaster stood at three but Pantukan town Mayor Celso Sarenas on Sunday warned that the chance of more survivors being pulled from the debris was slim.

"We have to be realistic," the mayor said. "We believe most of the missing were in their bunkhouses when the landslide occurred."

Four survivors and one body had so far been pulled from the makeshift tunnels dug into the mountainside, he added.

The landslide hit Kingking, a remote mountain district near Pantukan on the main southern island of Mindanao before dawn on Friday after heavy rain, burying illegal gold mines as well as houses, stores and crude gold processing mills.

Major Jake Obligado, commander of a 120-member military unit that is leading the rescue, said the effort would continue until local officials decided to call off the search.

Policemen, resident volunteers as well as personnel sent by mining companies operating nearby were taking part in the search, Obligado added.

The area can only be reached by off-road motorcycle, said Obligado.

The mayor estimated the area`s population at between 20,000 and 30,000 people.

Illegal mining operations, with inadequate safety measures, are common in mineral-rich but poverty-stricken Mindanao.

Authorities said one person was killed and five others were injured in a landslide in the same area last month, while 21 people died when a similar disaster brought on by heavy rains hit the same location in May 2009.

Bureau Report

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