Death toll rises to 5; hunt for survivors, bodies continue

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    THE death toll from the magnitude 6.9 earthquake that hit Davao del Sur on Sunday rose to five yesterday, with two of the fatalities retrieved from the rubble of a three-storey grocery store in Padada town.

    Rescue teams continued to search for signs of life in the collapsed Southern Trade grocery store and shopping center. Rescuers were using chainsaws and thermal imaging equipment to look for survivors, but said there was little hope of finding anyone alive.

    Christopher Tan, of the Davao del Sur provincial disaster risk reduction and management office, said there was a “very slim chance of finding survivors.”

    Tan could not immediately say how many persons remained trapped in the collapsed store. Reports said there could be seven to 20.

    Tan said only three persons were reported as missing. They include the two whose remains were retrieved yesterday.

    He said search, rescue, and retrieval operations are being delayed by aftershocks.

    “When there are aftershocks, our rescuers are forced to come out,” he said.

    Television footage early on Monday showed fire and rescue personnel using torches to search the outside of the shopping center in darkness. Roads were blocked by rubble and mangled metal.

    Tan named two of the fatalities as Elsa Ababon, 52, and Vangie Artiaga. Their remains were recovered from the collapsed store. The two other fatalities were a six-year-old girl who was pinned by a collapsed wall in Matanao town, and a woman, in her 70s, from Magsaysay town who had a cardiac arrest.

    The fifth fatality is from Hagonoy town and circumstances of the victim’s death are being verified, said Mark Timbal, spokesman of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

    The Bureau of Fire Protection, which is playing a key role in the search and rescue operations in Davao del Sur, said 84 persons were injured from the quake.

    To those who would like to extend assistance, Tan said the primary needs are tents and food packs for the displaced people. He could not immediately say the number of people who were displaced.

    There were widespread power outages and minor damage to at least 300 houses and eight government buildings, according to the disaster agency’s report late on Sunday.

    DAMAGE ‘SEVERE’

    Tan said damage “is severe, especially in Padada where most of the commercial buildings in the poblacion have cracks.”

    “Some of them collapsed,” he added.

    The quake’s epicenter was in Matanao town, about 6 km west of Padada town.

    The Department of Education said classrooms nine schools in the province were either damaged or destroyed. These are Gadico Elementary School, Hagonoy National High School, Ma. Cleta National High School, Nodilla Elementary School, Padada National High School, and Salud Cagas Elementary School in Davao del Sur; Igpit Elementary School and Matti National High School in Digos City; and Talus Elementary School in Sarangani.

    President Duterte, who was in his home in Davao City when the quake struck, ordered continuous emergency response and assistance to the victims, said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles.

    “The national government, together with our local disaster risk reduction management offices, is definitely on top of the situation on this latest quake that hit Davao del Sur,” he said.

    Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle urged the faithful to offer their prayers to the quake victims.

    “Let us remember our brothers and sisters in Mindanao, who experienced an earthquake that is even stronger than the previous ones,” said Tagle in his homily at the start of the traditional “Simbang Gabi” or midnight mass at the Manila Cathedral.

    The Department of Labor and Employment said it is preparing to provide emergency employment assistance to workers displaced by the quake, like helping clean or fix damaged infrastructure. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Gerard Naval, and Reuters