Hundreds of rescuers in the Philippines dug frantically with shovels and their bare hands on Monday in an attempt to save the lives of dozens of people buried by a landslide triggered at the weekend by Typhoon Mangkhut, the world’s strongest storm of the year.
But despite their best efforts, weary aid workers were only able to pull dead bodies from the mud and debris that had engulfed a church and miners’ bunkhouse where people had been sheltering from the fierce rain and winds topping 150 miles per hour in the early hours of Saturday morning.
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Grief-stricken relatives, many of them quietly praying, waited anxiously near the disaster site.
Victorio Palangdan, Itogon’s mayor, warned that the chances of finding any survivors were slim, raising the prospect that the previously confirmed Philippine death toll of 65 from the typhoon could significantly rise.
Mr Palangdan told a news conference that of the 40 to 50 people thought buried, there’s a “99 per cent (chance) that they are really dead.”
Itogon, #Philippines. With no chance of getting heavy equipment into the valley, rescue workers are using shovels and their hands to move rock and debris from the landslides. But there is so much of it. One official figures it will take a week. @NBCNews pic.twitter.com/4tX1LjXNKx
— Janis Mackey Frayer (@janisfrayer) September 17, 2018
He revealed that dozens of residents had refused to heed police warnings to leave the area. “They laughed at our policemen. They insisted,” he said, according to the AP. “They were resisting when our police tried to pull them away. What can we do?”
Most of the buried are believed to be poor miners and their families, who were working illegally at the mine site.
Foreign aid has begun to pour into the Philippines, which will face months of recovery after farms across the island of Luzon, which produces much of the nation’s rice and corn, were submerged in muddy floodwater just a month before harvest.
Francis Tolentino, a senior adviser to President Rodrigo Duterte, estimated that nationwide 5.7 million people had been affected by the storm.
Hong Kong on Monday also began to clear up “severe and extensive” damage from Mangkhut after it struck the high-rise city on Sunday, leaving 300 injured.
Roads remained blocked by felled trees and debris and some areas remained severely flooded. Windows in swaying tower blocks had been smashed by gusts of more than 142mph.
After tearing through Luzon and pummelling Hong Kong and Macau, the storm hit China’s Guangdong province, killing four people, three of whom were struck by trees. More than 3 million people were evacuated.
But by Monday afternoon, the terrifying storm had been downgraded to a tropical depression at it moved into Guangxi province on a path to the mountainous Yunnan province, where it was expected to weaken further as it approached Vietnam, Laos and Burma. No further deaths or damage were reported.