MANILA: The death toll from a landslide in the southern Philippines has climbed to 68, as officials said on Monday (Feb 12) that the window of finding more survivors is closing.
Rescuers were looking for 51 more people in the wake of the Feb 6 landslide, which struck outside a gold mine in Maco town in Davao de Oro province and buried homes and vehicles that were supposed to ferry employees of the mining company.
Hundreds of rescuers have used their bare hands, shovels and heavy earth-moving equipment for nearly a week looking for those buried. More than a dozen bodies were pulled from the mud on Monday.
Disaster authorities plan to shift their focus from search and rescue to search and retrieval beginning on Tuesday, Maco town disaster officer Ariel Capoy said.
"It is almost a week after the incident and... we are assuming that no one is alive there," Edward Macapili, spokesman for the Davao de Oro provincial disaster office, told AFP.
"There is already a foul smell in the area now so there's a need to fast-track the retrieval."
An area around 50m deep remains to be searched, Macapili added.
A three-year-old girl was pulled alive from under the rubble on Friday, in what rescuers described as a "miracle".
The landslide buried three buses and a jeepney waiting for employees of a gold mining firm and 55 nearby houses, leaving 32 other people injured.
Authorities have vowed to continue the search until all those missing are recovered.
The United States, through the US Agency for International Development, is providing US$1.25 million in humanitarian aid to the affected communities in the southern islands, its embassy in Manila said in a statement.
The US Defense Department also provided two C-130 cargo planes to help deliver food packs to the affected communities.