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Fatal landslides threaten to isolate Baguio City

Relentless rain is causing landslides in Benguet province that have killed nine people and now threaten to isolate Baguio City. Of the three major roads leading to the nation's largest upland urban center, only Marcos Highway has not been blocked by earth and rocks loosened by the weeklong downpour. Of the nine fatalities in two separate landslides in Brgy. Ambassador in Tublay town, Benguet, one was a one-year-old child and a pregnant woman, the Office of Civil Defense in the Cordillera Administrative Region (OCD-CAR) said Wednesday. Another landslide occurred in nearby Kilometer 16 of the barangay, which killed seven more residents, according to OCD-CAR officer-in-charge Olive Luces. The disaster in northern Luzon is unfolding in the wake of Typhoon Pepeng, which was thought to be enroute to Taiwan when it was pushed back by another weather disturbance. The televised scenes of flooding and evacuations in Pangasinan and other northern provinces were chillingly familiar to residents of Metro Manila and surrounding provinces who are still recovering from the impact of Storm Ondoy less than two weeks ago. “Kahapon pa malakas ang ulan dito. Saturated na ‘yung lupa kaya nagkakaroon ng landslides (It has been raining hard here since yesterday. The soil is already saturated, so landslides take place)," said Luces. Luces also advised people from nearby provinces to refrain from going to Benguet and Baguio City as of the moment, since many roads in and around them have become impassable due to landslides and falling rocks. She said two of the major roads leading to Baguio City—Kennon and Naguilian Roads—are closed due to landslides. According to other radio reports, Marcos Highway remains intermittently open as road crews fight to clear landslides. Marcos Highway is the most important artery from Metro Manila and Central Luzon into the mountain resort city. “Our highways are very critical. Pahupain muna natin ang ulan bago pumunta dito sa amin (Wait for the rain to stop before going here)," Luces said. Based on the latest weather bulletin from the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), Public Storm Signal No. 1 is still hoisted over all six provinces in CAR – Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga and Mountain Province—as Pepeng made its third landfall in Northern Luzon on Wednesday morning. - Andreo C. Calonzo, GMANews.TV