Landslide death toll: 31

2012-01-08 14:11

Manila - Rescuers retrieved three more bodies from a landslide that buried part of an illegal gold-mining site in the southern Philippines, raising the death toll to 31, officials said on Sunday.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said the toll could rise with up to 39 others still unaccounted for. Heavy rains sparked a landslide on Thursday that buried part of the site in the town of Pantukan on southern Mindanao island.

There had been confusion over the exact number of missing because authorities said gold prospectors do not necessarily register themselves with local authorities and no proper census was kept.

As many as 150 people were initially reported missing, but this was later pared down after many turned up and called relatives to say they were safe.

"They had been warned many times not to go to the area, but they did not heed authorities," Benito Ramos, who heads the council, said Sunday.

"The lure of gold is a magnet to these small scale miners," he said, adding that officials as of Sunday had ordered similar sites across the mountainous area to shut down.

The Philippines has some of the world's biggest gold, copper and nickel deposits, but most of these have remained off-limits to big mining firms partly due to local opposition over major exploration projects

The mountainous region still draws gold prospectors from surrounding areas despite frequent, deadly landslides.

Their largely unregulated tunnelling has made the mountainside unstable, government experts say, and heavy rains since last month had saturated the earth on top, triggering the deadly earthfall.