4 more miners rescued from flooded tunnel


By DEXTER SEE, MIKE GUIMBATAN JR., and MAR T. SUPNAD

ITOGON, Benguet – A strong faith in God, prayers, and drinking the murky water that trapped them deep in an abandoned mineshaft helped keep the six rescued miners alive for more than a week as rescuers raced to reach them.

Four more miners were rescued at Shaft 115 on Level 7 of the mines as of 10:30 a.m. yesterday, raising the number of the survivors to six and hopes among rescuers of finding more survivors.

Engr. Felizardo Gacad, spokesman of Mines and Geosciences Bureau Cordillera office, said Gerry Monyudna, 23, was brought out of the tunnel at 11:23 pm. of Monday, Jason Himmayod, 23, at 8:05 a.m. yesterday, Robert Buhway, 21, at 9:20 a.m., and Garry Gano at around 10:15 am.

Earlier, rescuers found Antonio Pagulayan, 23, and Jose Panio Jr. in Shaft 114. The two were found floating at one end of level 700, the lowest level of the mine tunnels.

Rescuers and relatives applauded as three survivors were brought out Monday and three others Tuesday on stretchers. They were extremely hungry but in apparent good health.

Before the discovery of the survivors, the bodies of Vincent Himmayod and Joel Bulga were first retrieved last Sept. 26 or five days after they were last seen entering the abandoned Antamok Goldfield mines.

The trapped miners said they took refuge in air pockets at Level 700 after water from rains brought Typhoon Nina swamped the old tunnels last Sept. 21. They were forced to drink flood water after their food and water ran out.

The Antamok Goldfield mine is owned by Benguet Mining Corp. at Purok 7, Gold Field , Poblacion, Itogon, Benguet.

“Nang lumabas ang pang-apat na survivor, may narinig na nagre-respond sa loob sa signals. Binalikan at nailabas ang fifth and sixth survivors (Shortly after rescue workers pulled out the fourth survivor, rescue workers heard voices responding to their signals. They went back and got the fifth and sixth survivors out),” said Chief Supt. Eugene Martin, Cordillera regional police chief, in an interview.

All survivors were rushed to the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center (BGHMC) where doctors said they were weak, in shock, but in relatively good condition after trapped inside the flooded mine for a week.

Rescuers managed to reach deeper into Level 700 after relatively good weather saw water levels inside the tunnels go down.

Teams of rescuers, comprised of miners and divers from the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard, are conducting round the clock searches inside the abandoned mines of the Benguet Mining Corporation.

Engr. Neoman dela Cruz, MGB-CAR regional director, said the survivors and rescuers indicated there may be more survivors and rescue operations are continuing non-stop despite difficulties.

Pagulayan and Panio said they were able to find areas with higher elevation so that the water will not reach them and that the area had a good ventilation so they were able to breathe humid air.

They prayed hard for the rescuers to reach them in time.

Nearly 100 rescuers have been battling heavy rains and floodwaters to find the miners who went into the shafts on Sept. 21 during a typhoon that rapidly flooded the tunnels.

With eight of miners already accounted for, eight more remain missing, with hopes lifted among rescuers to find more survivors, said George Baywong of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

An Ifugao ritual was performed last Sunday by relatives of the trapped miners calling the help of “Maknongan,” the supreme being, and Ifugao ancestors to guide rescuers to the missing miners.

Tears of joy rolled down the cheeks of Hilda Monyubda, a third year student of Benguet State University, when she learned of her husband’s rescue midnight of Monday.

Jaylord Panio, older brother of survivor, Jose Panio said they are very grateful to God for listening to their prayers.

The younger Panio said he and Pagulayan tried to swim out of the tunnel but were forced back. They shared the three liters of water they had until it ran out.

Meanwhile, divers were trying to reach two other men seen inside the shaft, but it was not clear if they were still alive, said Baywong, who is supervising rescue efforts.

“We don’t know if they are survivors,” Baywong said. “We are hoping against hope that they are still alive.’’

“This is some sort of a miracle,’’ Neoman de la Cruz, another Mines and Geosciences Bureau officer, told The Associated Press by telephone. “Our hardships have been compensated and we won’t give up our search for more survivors.’’

The first two miners rescued Monday managed to survive by standing on a ledge in a tunnel about 400-700 feet below ground where there was enough oxygen to keep them alive.

They drank the water that flooded the tunnel but had nothing else, Baywong said.

The four others rescued late Monday and Tuesday morning were found in separate elevated portions of the shaft.

Dela Cruz said rescuers heard what appeared to be faint human voices in some of the tunnels and the search would focus in that area.

The tunnels, dug decades ago in mountainous Benguet province, were abandoned in the 1990s by a gold mining company, which posted guards at two entrances to prevent accidents.

The trapped miners, who were working on their own with no permit, dug a narrow passageway to gain access to the tunnels, Baywong said. (With a report from AP) (ManilaBulletin)

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