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Slide Kills 37 in Manila's Promised Land
July 10, 2000 8:52 am EST

By Roli Ng

MANILA (Reuters) - At least 37 people died smothered under tons of rubbish and scores were missing after a towering garbage dump collapsed Monday in a district called the Promised Land on the outskirts of the Philippine capital Manila.

More than 90 people were injured as the avalanche buried more than 100 houses, mostly shanties, in a squatter colony at the foot of the dumpsite in the Manila suburb of Quezon City around 7:30 a.m., officials said.

"Help us, our parents are buried below," a sobbing eight-year-old Robee Pablo told rescue workers who found him and his sister, Sheryl, aged four, near the ruins of their house. The two children were covered with garbage.

Asked how he and his sister escaped, he said: "We just ran."

Nine hours after the cave-in, moans could be heard from beneath the mountain of garbage, Manila radio station DZRH said.

Relief officials said the collapse of the dump was caused by heavy rains brought by typhoon Kai-Tak which had battered the country for five days, loosening the dump's soil foundation.

Many of the dead were young children.

"I was sleeping when I thought I heard an airplane coming. Then there was an explosion," nine-year-old Nelda Tagalo told Reuters. "My Papa saved me."


Cries from wailing women rent the scene as rescuers brought one body bag after another into a tent set up as a temporary morgue.

The wailing rose as the bags were opened, revealing familiar but lifeless faces.

Seventy-two people were missing while 1,500 were homeless, the Red Cross said.

Rescuers said they feared the death toll would rise once they reached the bottom of the rubbish heap.

Survivors said they heard a rumbling followed by an avalanche of mud and garbage which swamped their wooden houses as one side of the 50-foot-high dumpsite gave way.

As the dumpsite collapsed, a live electric cable lit a pile of garbage, sparking a fire.

The dumpsite -- ironically called Lupang Pangako (Promised Land) -- is a bleak underworld of squatter colonies of 80,000 people, most of whom trek up the small mountain everyday to forage for used plastic containers, bottles, broken toys and broken appliances to sell to junk shops.

They also scrounge for partly spoiled food to eat.

Scavengers each earn about 200 pesos ($4.50) a day.

Three times the size of a football field, the dump absorbs about a quarter of the 4,500 metric tons of solid waste churned out daily by factories and homes in Manila, a metropolis of 10 million people.


City mayor Mel Mathay said residents were ordered last week to move out of the area because of the danger of landslides as a result of Kai-Tak's onslaught. "But they refused," he said.

A 58-year-old woman survivor who gave her name only as Maria was in hysterics and blamed God for the disaster.

"Why did you do this to us?," she screamed. "Give me back my daughter."

The daughter, who was pregnant, was among those buried in the avalanche.

Rescue workers, using spades and their bare hands, clawed through the rubble searching for the missing.

In one area, a dead body lay on the ground but workers could not get lift it up because a leg was stuck in a pile of rubbish and twisted iron sheets.

Yards away, a leg, apparently belonging to a woman, protruded from the heap.

"We don't know how many people are missing because we have no figures on how many were in the houses that were buried," Mathay said. "These are mobile people who live by scavenging. Overnight, shanties would just shoot up here."

Typhoon Kai-Tak swept out toward Taiwan Sunday after triggering floods on the Philippines' Luzon island, drowning 39 people.



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