A mountain of rain-loosened garbage collapsed and burst into flames today at Manila’s biggest dump, flattening squatters’ shanties and killing 31 people, officials said.
Some 29 other people were injured and at least 68 remained missing late today, Red Cross spokeswoman Tess Usapdin said. The victims were poor people who earn a living by scavenging garbage in the Payatas dump.
The wall of garbage buried an area of squatter houses about the size of four basketball courts. About 100 houses were covered, Quezon City Mayor Ismael Mathay said.
About 780 people were taken to an evacuation center at city hall, Mathay said.
Rescuers dug through the wall of rotting garbage late into the night, but were hampered by the stench and lack of equipment, including adequate lighting, she said.
Loved Ones Buried
One scavenger, Gloria Alano, sobbed and yelled at rescuers using a heavy bulldozer on a heap of garbage to search for survivors and bodies.
“Backhoe, use only backhoes, not bulldozers, I want to get the bodies of my loved ones,” she cried. Her husband and three children were buried under the tons of garbage.
After collapsing onto the shanties, the wall of garbage burst into flames, engulfing the area. Residents said the debris may have been ignited by fallen power cables or stoves being used in huts covered by the garbage.
Portions of the Payatas dump in Quezon City, the largest in metropolitan Manila, often smolder from the spontaneous combustion of rotting garbage.
Fire trucks could not reach the area because of limited space and parked on a main road several blocks from the dump. Hoses were pulled through crowded alleys by firefighters, who extinguished most of the blaze after several hours.
The Ground Shifted Danilo Castro, whose shanty was perched alongside the mountain of garbage, said he felt the ground shift in the morning, before it finally collapsed.
“I left the house because I needed to sell outside, so I left my wife and child,” he said. “When I came back my house was gone and my wife and child are buried underneath.”
In one area, rescuers pulled out three bodies, including a man badly burned but breathing.
Red Cross volunteers doused his body with water from a fire hose but failed to revive him, witnesses said.
A week of heavy rains followed by a thunderstorm early today apparently caused a crack in the upper portion of the mountain of garbage, Manila police chief Edgar Aglipay said.
Too Costly to Move
The dumpsite was to be closed permanently last December but the plan was postponed until later this year after residents at a garbage landfill in San Mateo in nearby Rizal province refused to allow waste from metropolitan Manila to be dumped there.
Officials say they have tried in recent years to relocate the hundreds of scavengers and junk yard workers living around the Payatas dumpsite, but most have refused.
Josephine Ranola, a hospitalized dump resident, said they declined to be relocated because they could not afford the cost.
The Payatas dump and a former dump in Manila’s Tondo slum district called Smokey Mountain long symbolized the wrenching poverty in the Philippines.
President Joseph Estrada’s predecessor, Fidel Ramos, ordered Smokey Mountain leveled in the mid-1990s and built apartment buildings at the former eyesore.