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Philippine activists issue typhoon fallout warning

Fears voiced over possible toxic spills at abandoned mining site

Philippine activists issue typhoon fallout warning

Pictures provided by PMPI show the state of the Rapu-Rapu mine after it was abandoned last year (Courtesy of PMPI)

Joe Torres, Manila

July 18, 2014

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A Philippine faith-based organization has issued an alert over possible toxic spills at an abandoned mine on Rapu-Rapu island in the wake of Typhoon Rammasun, which struck the eastern province of Albay on Wednesday.

The island was one of the first places to be hit by the typhoon that killed at least 51 people and left a trail of devastation.

"We are afraid that toxic waste from a huge tailings dam belonging to the mining company was … scooped up by the strong winds," Redemptorist priest Oliver Castor, head of the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc (PMPI) said Friday.

"The stability of the mine was affected by the typhoon’s intensity," the priest added.

PMPI is a partnership between non-government organizations, people’s organizations and Church groups in the Philippines, as well as Misereor, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Germany. 

In 2006, landslides buried 13 villagers after floodwaters caused by a typhoon inundated two villages near the mine.

The Rapu-Rapu mine, which opened in 2005, was one of 63 priority large-scale mining projects touted by the government and a pet project of former president Gloria Arroyo. 

Previously owned by Lafayette Mining Ltd, an Australian firm, the mine was later taken over by a consortium consisting of Korea Resources Corp, LG International and Malaysia Smelting Operations.

These companies abandoned the mine last year.

An inspection conducted by environmental groups and PMPI in February revealed evidence of acid mine drainage in several villages around the mine site.

PMPI spokesman Primo Morillo described the open pit as "a gaping hole on the southeastern side of the island".

"We hope that the safety of residents there will not be compromised. The damage will be unimaginable if the government does not act swiftly,” Morillo said.

A Mines and Geosciences Bureau official, who asked not to be named, told that the bureau had not yet received any typhoon damage reports from around the old mine site.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said on Friday that Typhoon Rammasun had affected more than 800,000 people or 167,000 families.

Some 500,000 people were currently sheltering in 1,200 evacuation centers around the country after Rammasun reportedly destroyed more than 26,200 houses. At least 23 roads and two bridges were still impassable due to floods as of Friday morning.

NDRRMC spokeswoman Romina Marasigan warned the number of casualties may increase in coming days as authorities continue to receive reports from field offices and from national government agencies.

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