Itogon seeks safe relocation

By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
www.nordis.net

ITOGON, Benguet — At the moment, the most pressing need for survivors of the ground sinking in Sitio Kamanggaan, Barangay Virac, here is finding a place where they could rebuild their homes.

As of the latest listing by the Itogon police, there are 166 families evacuated from the area including families of 29 Benguet Corporation employees. The families of the BC employees were accommodated in the company staff houses while the rest are now housed in the classrooms of Virac Elementary School and Balatoc Elementary School. Public elementary schools do not have classes until November 2.

It can be recalled that the sinking started in the afternoon of October 22 that swallowed four houses. Another house fell on October 25 and one more on October 26 prompting local government officials and police officers to evacuate all other households identified to be in danger.

Thelma Rumilan, 50 one of the displaced residents raised that classes will resume on November 3. “Where will we go when classes resume? We cannot rob the children off their classrooms because education is very important,” she said.

Rumilan said her family with four of their neighbors’ families are occupying the room they are staying at. She said, “We try very hard to go about our normal daily life. Those who have work go to work and the other stay here and look after their kids.”

Rumilan said she was born and raised in Virac. But she said she has no relatives to turn to because they are also victims and those in other barangays do not have enough space for them. “We just want a place where we could build a house. We do not desire a big house, just enough to shelter us,” she added.

Arlina Alito, 36 is among the six families renting a room in the first house that was sucked in by the ground on October 22. She has just given birth to her fourth child last September 22. She is from Biliran province and has just been in Virac for a little over a year now.

“We relocated to Virac in 2014 when a cousin of my husband encouraged us. We lost our house in Biliran to typhoon Yolanda so we decided to come and try our luck here,” she said.

Her husband, Armand Alito, 33 works in one of the contracted mines in the Acupan Contract Mining Project (ACMP) of Benguet Corporation. Their fourth child has just turned one month old when the tragedy struck.

“Our greatest worry now is where to transfer. We have nothing to go back to in Biliran and besides my husband has found work here,” she stressed.

Maricel Almandrez, 25 is renting in another house that also fell when the ground sunk. Like Alito her husband is working at one of the ACMP cites. She is from Alicia, Isabela and has been in Virac for two years now.

“We need to find a new place because we can not stay in the school forever. We lost everything including our cellphones and what is left of our money for the month until pay day,” she said.

She described that the first house that fell sounded like it was suctioned into that very deep hole. “It was as if a giant dinosaur sucked the house. We could only hear a sound like boiling water and then a faint thud like it was deep, deep under then the ground shook so we ran for our lives,” she said.

Almadrez said it was fortunate that somebody saw the Kaymito tree behind the houses disappear and alerted everybody before the houses started falling one after the other.

“We were talking in our kitchen when my daughter heard an unusual noise and our kitchen fell missing me by an inch. We frantically ran out of the house that we even forgot to wear our slippers. When we were all safely outside, my knees were trembling,” Juanita Fontanos, 75 said.

Fontanos said by October 26, their house or what was left of it disappeared into the ground. She said she has lived in Virac since 1957.

Dolly Salingpay, 39 said their house has not disappeared into the ground yet so they were able to bring their things out with them to the evacuation site. She said she would not want to go back to Kamangaan anymore. “It is no longer safe there. So we would want to be relocated,” she said.

Mayor Victorio Palangdan said there are already six houses swallowed by the sinkhole. He, however, said they still need to plan where to bring the affected families before classes resume. He added that whether the families can return to their houses will be decided after the result of the inspections are out.

Officials and experts from the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau (MGB), Itogon town government, Virac barangay government, Benguet Corporation and residents inspected the mining company’s diversion tunnels underneath the houses on October 27. The results of the inspection has yet to be formally reported or officially released. # nordis.net

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