Landslide kills 25 in Philippine mining area

MANILA Thu Jan 5, 2012 9:51am EST

1 of 6. Bodies recovered from the site of a landslide are seen in Pantukan town in Compostela Valley on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao January 5, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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MANILA (Reuters) - A landslide buried shanty houses in a mining area on a southern Philippine island, killing at least 25 people and leaving dozens missing, local disaster and security officials said on Thursday.

The incident, the second one in Pantukan town in almost nine months, took place near the Kingking area on the southern island of Mindanao, said to be one of the world's largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits.

Government officials said there had been cracks in the mountains, caused by earlier landslides, and rain over the past weeks could have loosened soil. Last month, Typhoon Washi and the flash floods it caused on Mindanao island killed more than 1,200 people.

The latest landslide hit before dawn, burying people under loosened soil and boulder, said Lieutenant-Colonel Leopoldo Galon, an army spokesman. He added that 16 people were also pulled out from under rubble and rushed to a nearby hospital.

Still, about 100 people remained unaccounted for, security and local officials said.

"There was no rain but we were awakened by rocks falling into the roofs of our house," Saul Pinggoy, a small-scale miner, told radio station dzMM.

"It was dark but we decided to move to safer grounds. Hours later, we saw tons of soil burying dozens of houses," he said, adding that residents were using shovels and their bare hands to look for missing relatives and friends under debris.

The government's mines bureau has listed the copper-gold and gold mining operations in Kingking as one of its priority investment projects.

But the Philippines last year banned small-scale mining in the area due to safety hazards.

Pinggoy said they had been warned by the government to relocate to safer areas, but many people had ignored the warnings and continued small-scale mining operations, often illegal and unregulated.

Benito Ramos, head of the national disaster agency, said soldiers were sent to help the rescue and recovery operations while army helicopters were dispatched to airlift injured miners to hospitals.

The landslides hit three clusters of shanty towns in Barangay Napnapan, destroying dozens of houses around 3-4 a.m. local time on Thursday.

In April 2011, about 20 people were killed in the same town of Pantukan in rain-induced mudslides.

The Philippines sits on an estimated $1 trillion (640 billion pounds) untapped mineral deposits, but has only targeted to attract $1 billion in mining investment last year.

(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)

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