Sniffer dogs help find bodies in Benguet landslides

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet, Philippines—Two sniffer dogs brought up by a Makati City rescue team led to the retrieval of one more body at Little Kibungan in Barangay Puguis here on Wednesday.

The recovery of the body of Concepcion Tayab brought the death toll from Typhoon "Pepeng" in the Little Kibungan landslides to 74. Four more bodies were still being dug up as of Wednesday afternoon.

Mayor Artemio Galwan said local officials also have yet to confront the trauma of homeless residents and relatives of the dead in the worst disaster that hit this capital town, known as the country's "salad bowl," since the earthquake that devastated Northern Luzon in 1990.

Local officials could only agree on a stress debriefing for rescue workers and volunteers as they are still busy attending to rescue and relief operations for 468 evacuees making up 94 families.

The families are temporarily housed at the Puguis Elementary School, Nazarene Bible College, National Irrigation Administration, the town hall's Lednicky Hall and the Benguet Veterans building.

"But definitely, a daw-es (an indigenous cleansing ritual) would be held after everything is settled," Galwan said.

He said efforts to "psychologically revive" the community would go hand in hand with the rehabilitation of farms, houses, roads and bridges.

He said he had received reports about some people having nightmares after seeing the dead.

The municipal disaster and coordinating council and the Department of Social Welfare and Development are scouring the town's six crowded public cemeteries to accommodate the dead.

More than 30 bodies were buried on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The call for measures to cope with the tragedy was also meant for volunteers who had to go through the site and transport 74 bodies, Galwan said.

The two imported sniffer dogs were highly trained for "life and cadaver search sniffing," said Ernesto Sison, Philippine Search and Rescue Foundation Inc. president.

He said the dogs, which belong to the Makati Rescue Team of Councilor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr., are accredited by the National Association of Search and Rescue Association of America.

The team reached this town past 3 p.m. on Tuesday and went to work immediately until dusk.

The dogs, named "Rebelle" and "Chairman," scoured the 1.5 hectare Little Kibungan and were able to detect five areas where bodies could have been trapped.

"We immediately placed markers to indicate the sites the dogs sniffed into," Sison said.

On Wednesday, the dogs sniffed the area that yielded the body of Tayab, who had been missing since Oct. 8.

"We will remain here until the last body is found," Sison said, adding that it was Binay who sent the dogs and 14 rescue team members here as Makati’s way of helping the typhoon victims in La Trinidad.

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