(UPDATE 2 — 9:14 p.m.) BATANGAS, Philippines — Heavy overnight rains triggered a landslide in San Juan, Batangas, at dawn Wednesday, causing a large boulder to fall on an improvised guest room (container van) in a resort , trapping five guests who were staying there and killing two, the local police said.
Three of the guests were safely rescued by a combined team of San Juan police, firefighters and the local disaster office.
However, two of the guests, a 48-year-old woman and her nephew, were crushed. It took rescue teams over eight hours to take out their mangled bodies from the crumpled container van-cum-guestroom.
Personnel of the San Juan Municipal Police Station rushed to the site at about 3:45 AM on being alerted by a waiter at the report, joined later in retrieval operations by elements of the Bureau of Fire Protection and the municipal disaster risk reduction and management center.
The survivors were identified as: Emy Louise Santos, 18 years old, single and student; Emel Luis Santos, 21 years old, single and student; and Baltazar Santos, 37 years old, single and machinist.
Police identified the fatalities as Ma. Luisa Santos, 48 years old, married; and her nephew Christopher Cruz, 17, single, student, resident of Mandaluyong City. Ma Luisa was the mother of survivors Emy Louise and Emel Luis.
According to Supt. Joemar Labiano, San Juan’s chief of police, the rains poured so heavily overnight that there was “zero visibility” in the area.
When the landslide began, rocks as big as human hands first rolled down from the mountain, but were soon followed by boulders, including the one that crushed the container van at the resort – estimated by police to be as big as a two-story house.
“Di talaga mabubuhay ‘yong dadaganan ng bato na ‘yon [Someone crushed by that could not be expected to survive],” said Labiano.
Maria Luisa Santos, 48, and her nephew Christopher were barely recognizable because of the extent of their injuries. According to Labiano, “nakuha ang isang bangkay, sad to say, dinudugtong ang katawan ngayon…. Nagkalasog-lasog ang katawan niya [One body that was retrieved, sad to say, had to be re-attached in some parts. The body was badly mangled].”
Santos’s two children, Emel Luis and Emy Louise, and her brother-in-law Baltazar Santos, survived and are being treated in hospital.
More slides nearly buried rescuers
Rescuers took all of eight hours for the retrieval operations.
Senior Fire Officer 3 Edwin Emaradura, officer in charge of the San Juan BFP, said the rescuers had a difficult time because, “when we arrived at the scene, there were some rocks and soil still sliding down the slopes. At one point, we were almost buried. It was good we were able to run.”
Another problem: the boulder that crushed the container van cum guest room was very huge. In fact, recalled San Juan police chief Labiano, the first backhoe that was brought to the scene was no match to the boulder, and tipped over when the rescue and retrieval teams tried to move the rock.
Emy Santos was the first retrieved by the staff of the resort and was brought to San Juan District Hospital for treatment, while Emel and Baltazar were later retrieved by the retrieval team (MDRRMC) and were brought to the same hospital.
Between 8:30 and 9:30AM, the last two victims – Christopher Cruz and Ma Luisa Santos – were extracted from the container. Victims were all declared safe after treatment at San Juan District Hospital except for Baltazar Santos and Emy Louise Santos, who were transferred to Mary Mediatrix Medical Center for further medical treatment and examination.
No liability – yet – for resort owners
The husband of Santos declined to be interviewed, and said he still could not believe what happened.
The owners of the resort also declined media interviews, but have moved to shoulder the hospital and funeral expenses of the victims.
As of now, the local government of San Juan has not yet determined if the resort management had any liability, particularly in putting guest rooms at the foot of the mountain, where they could be facing geohazards like landslides.
In a phone interview, San Juan Mayor Rodolfo Manalo said, “ako’y naniniwala na hindi kapabayaan ‘yon; talagang siguro dahil sa nature – sa haba ng ulan, ang tinatayuan ng bato – baka (nabuwal) ng tubig ‘yon [I don’t believe they were negligent. It could nature at work – constant heavy rains and the position of that rock – which made it easier for the water to dislodge it].”
The area has not been declared hazard-prone, officials said, so people are surprised by what happened.
Meanwhile, the resort remains closed and all reservations cancelled. The San Juan LGU advised them to move out all structures near the mountains.
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