UPDATE: Death toll reaches 72 in Cordillera; 66 still missing due to ‘Ompong’

BAGUIO CITY – The death toll caused by typhoon Ompong in Cordillera has risen to 72 while 66 others are still missing as of 11 pm of September 19, according to a report of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) in the region.
Of the reported casualties, majority are mostly from the town of Itogon in Benguet with 49 reported dead; three are reported dead in La Trinidad, one each in Kabayan and Tuba, and 11 in Baguio City, all in Benguet; one in Kalinga; and six in Mt. Province.
There are 66 persons missing: 62 in Benguet and 4 in Baguio City.
Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan on Wednesday said 18 bodies have been recovered from the major landslide in Barangay Ucab in this mining town.
Ruben Carandang, Office of Civil Defense Cordillera (OCD-CAR) regional director and chairman of the regional DRRM, said the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had sent additional personnel on Wednesday morning to help in the search, rescue, and retrieval (SRR) operation at the landslide area in Barangay Ucab.
READ: 54 patay, 49 nawawala sa Cordillera dahil kay ‘Ompong’
From day-one of the landslide, about 200 persons have been helping each other “on ground zero” daily, 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 SRR 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 SRR operation on ground zero.
At the briefing, Carandang thanked the AFP for sending five choppers, which are now being used in transporting supplies in areas isolated by the damage of the typhoon.
He said the choppers were also used by the ground officials for aerial inspection of the landslide area to look for possible sites, where the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) can possibly be accessed by backhoe and heavy equipment to reach ground zero.
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.
Live animals found
The Itogon mayor, meanwhile, expressed confidence that they can still find survivors under the rubble.
“I am still hopeful that we can still find survivors,” as he said live animals were found under the collapsed structures.
He said if live animals can be found, there is still a big chance that survivors will also be recovered.
On Tuesday, Political Adviser and Secretary Francis Tolentino told media in an interview 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.
Pressed for time
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.
In a coordination meeting on Tuesday, 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 be identified for unrecognizable bodies, which will be exhumed when the DNA test results come out.
She said it will take a little more time for the DNA results to be completed.
She added the bodies will not be released if the families are unsure of getting the remains of their family members. PNA

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