By ALFREDO P HERNANDEZ and PERCY A OSTONAL
FIRST, a deafening boom, followed by a roar of water rampaging down the mountain slope, flooding a nearby tributary until it slammed into a busy tricycle-trodden road below.
Minutes later, 10 houses along its path were seen crushed, five of them totally.
The time: about 10am.
The day, Friday the 13th.
The culprit: A failed toxic tailings pond at the mine site of Johson Gold Mining Corporation (JGMC) at Baranggay Bagong-Bayan on the outskirts of Jose Panganiban.
Luckily, no life was lost from the 10 wrecked houses, five of them “barong-barong” owned by farmer-gold panner families, as the occupants were away when the tragedy struck.
Locals who witnessed the deluge of the toxic gold tailings said it had dragged down with it “a shanty, uprooted trees and vegetation and boulders”, indicating the intensity of force the toxic flood had packed.
Baranggay officials had immediately traced the source of the toxic flood from a cluster of mine tailings ponds at the nearby campsite of JGMC at the former San Mauricio mining tenement.
The collapsed dam later identified by the miner as “Tailings Pon E” was believed by the residents to have released big volume of cyanide-laden mine tailings into the environment.
The damaged dam, which was one of the five containment facilities at the mine camp, was being prepared for decommissioning along with four others labeled as “A to D”.
A new pond labeled as “Tails Pond F” is being developed, JGMC said.
Municipal officials were investigating the incident.
JGMC Vice-President Jason A Marcelo returned MWBuzz earlier call to confirm the incident.
“Five houses along the path of the flood were totally destroyed while five others were partially affected,” Marcelo said.
However, there was no casualty, he said.
Marcelo said the flooding had reached the main road but a clean-up job was immediately carried out to prevent the toxic wastes from spilling further into a wider populated area.
He said that a wall section of a tailings pond E collapsed and released into the environment waste water and sediments.
“It has been observed that during heavy rains, some scouring of backfilled earth materials caused the thinning of the top embankment of this portion, which caused the mudslide,” Marcelo said in a follow statement sent to MWBuzz.
Marcelo said the mine’s tailing ponds with a total of 3.5 hectares were designed by experts and built under their close supervision.
This facility is one of the major requirements by the government before JGMC was allowed to operate.
“We have repaired the damaged wall,” Marcelo said in a statement emailed to MWBuzz to respond to some queries the online newsletter sent to the company official.
It was not immediately known how long the affected water tributary and the immediate farmland and vegetation would remain toxic considering the massive volume of cyanide-treated waste that flooded down the mountain slope.
But local residents said that whatever life that used to teem in the water tributary such as shrimps and edible snails have been wiped out.
They also said that water springs along the contaminated tributary could no longer be used as source of drinking water.
Marcelo said that although there were silt materials from higher suspended solids along the creek, “no fish kill was observed along the shoreline of the bay”.
The Mines and GeoSciences Bureau has been informed of the incident while the municipal government is investigating what exactly caused the tailings dam to collapse.
Earlier, Marcelo said his company had taken safety measures to contain its mine tailings.
Marcelo made the assurance to allay fears of the public on the alleged harm that its wastes could do to the mining camp’s surroundings, particularly the nearby tributaries that flow down to the Mambulao Bay.