(UPDATE) 150 people feared dead in Benguet

Posted at 10/09/2009 10:54 AM | Updated as of 10/09/2009 1:46 PM

MANILA - At least 40 bodies have been recovered and 150 people more feared dead after a massive landslide buried dozens of houses in La Trinidad, Benguet on Thursday night while tropical depression Pepeng (international codename Parma) was pouring heavy rains over northern Luzon provinces.

ABS-CBN News correspondent Butch Mendizabal reported that 34 houses were buried by a landslide that struck around 10 p.m. in Barangay Puguis, La Trinidad.

Before Friday noon, Mendizabal reported that retrieval teams had recovered 32 bodies and 10 more were being transported to Kibungan municipality. He said rescue and retrieval operations were on going for 150 more people.

Senior Superintendent Loreto Espineli, Benguet provincial police director, said landslides have also taken place in other areas of La Trinidad. He said at least 11 more bodies have been recovered in three more villages, including Poblacion, Balili and Bineng.

Espineli added that 13 more people were reported killed in landslides in the municipalities of Mankayan, Buguias, Tublay and Sablan.

He said police station commanders have been spearheading separate rescue and retrieval operations in the landslide-hit areas of the province.

Mountain Province Governor Maximo Dulag, meanwhile, reported that five people have been confirmed killed and 32 more missing in Tadian municipality.

Earlier reports said there were also 17 people killed in landslides in several parts of Baguio City.

Threats of more landslides have forced city officials to close major access roads, literally isolating the city from nearby provinces.

An ABS-CBN News report said Kennon Road, Naguillan Highway, Marcos Highway, as well as, Ambuclao Road and another road connecting Baguio City and La Trinidad town in Benguet, have been closed due to several incidents of landslides.


View Northern Luzon Floods, October 2009 in a larger map

The report added that floodwaters at the City Camp Lagoon have reached three storeys high and nearly 10 landslides have been recorded overnight.

Pangasinan in 'critical situation'

Weather bureau PAGASA said floodwaters in Pangasinan province will continue to rise significantly on Friday as the San Roque dam increased the volume of water being released through its six gates.

PAGASA Administrator Prisco Nilo told ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda that as of 3 a.m. the dam was been releasing 5,361 cubic meters per seconds (cms) of water.

"The dam is releasing very big volumes of water and floodwaters are expected to rise," Nilo said, adding that the municipalities of San Manuel and Lingayen will severely feel the effects of the release of water.

Pangasinan Governor Amado Espino Jr. said that as of 2 a.m. Friday, there were already 30,000 people in evacuation centers in higher areas of the province. He said thousands more, particularly those living in the eastern part of thge province, are trapped on the roof of their houses.

Espino said Pangasinan has become almost isolated with major bridges and roads connecting it to other provinces either submerged or destroyed by raging floods.

Raffy Baraan, provincial administrator of Pangasinan, said the province was already in a "very critical situation."

The two officials said almost 90 percent of the province or 30 towns and cities were already submerged in critical levels of floodwaters.

Baraan said municipalities in more critical situations were Umingan, Tayug, San Nicolas, Natividad, Sta. Maria, San Manuel, Balungao, Rosales, Bautista, Bayambang in eastern Pangasinan.

He said people in the central towns of the province -- San Fabian, Mangaldan, San Jacinto, Calasiao, Sta. Barbara, Manaoag -- are also in danger of being overwhelmed by floodwaters.

Imelda Guarin of Villasis town pleaded for help over ANC television on Friday morning. She said the town is covered by floodwaters and some residents who failed to evacuate were trapped inside their homes.

Guarin said floodwaters seemed to be rising as they received news that the dam was still releasing water. She said heavy rains continued to pour over the province.

She said she was with at least 19 more people trapped in their home.

Heavy rains continue

Baraan said that at around 8 a.m., the San Roque dam lowered the volume of water being released through its six gates. He said that from 5,361 cms, it was lowered to 3, 800 cms.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), meanwhile, said San Roque dam will indefinitely continue to release water as "heavy rain is still expected to persist in the upper reaches of the watershed within the next 6 hours."

PAGASA spokesperson Nathaniel Cruz told ANC's News@8 that they are expecting Pepeng's rains to ease as it moves away from the country.

As of 11 a.m., the storm was over Luzon sea or 90 kilometers northwest of Baguio City, with maximum sustained winds of 55 kilometers per hour.

It has accelerated as it continued its movement towards the South China Sea, the weather bureau said.

Only 5 provinces remained under Signal No. 1, including Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra, La Union and western Pangasinan.

Cruz explained that Pepeng's rains became heavy as its winds became weaker during its 2nd and 3rd landfall this week. He said storms with weaker winds tend to bring heavy volumes of rain.

The storm, which was feared as a supertyphoon, made its first landfall in Cagayan on Saturday. It maintained its position over the northern Luzon area as it was being pulled by another tropical disturbance and a high pressure area over the Pacific and Hong Kong.

Rescue coming

Butch Velasco, spokesperson of the Pangasinan provincial disaster coordinating council, said they have formed four task groups to launch rescue operations in the eastern, western, northern and southern parts of the province.

"Our rescuers will enter to all points to rescue trapped residents," Velasco said.

Baraan said he received reports that there were 1,000 families holed up at SM Mall in Rosales town, which was drenched in one-story  high floodwaters.

Velasco said a joint rescue team from Tarlac province with an amphibian truck, at least 4 rubber boats, and 2 Red Cross rescue trucks were on their way to rescue those trapped at the mall.

The NDCC said in its 6 a.m. report that the number of people affected by Pepeng has reached over 1 million people with nearly 40,000 people inside 162 evacuation centers.

The agency has so far counted 4 people dead and 5 others missing in Pangasinan due to floods. With reports from Pia Gutierrez and Butch Mendizabal, ABS-CBN Baguio; Cris Zuniga, ABS-CBN Dagupan and Agence France-Presse