CLEARING operations to open the Halsema Highway in Baguio City continue as of Friday after a big landslide closed the Gonogon section of the road, leaving Bontoc town unreachable.

Last Sunday, continuous rains caused an entire side of a mountain to fall on the road, completely blocking entry or exit to the capital town of Mt. Province.

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A small landslide started the blockage around 3 p.m. of August 7, followed by a major landslide around 11 p.m.

Engineers of the Department of Public Works and Highways-Mt. Province District Engineering Office (DPWH-MPDEO) said rain on August 6 may have caused the rocks and soil to loosen.

The landslide is located at Barangay Gonogon, Bontoc, Mountain Province, about 20 minutes drive from Bontoc Central.

Measuring about 110 meters in length and 80 meters high, the slide is estimated to be between 20,000 to 50,000 cubic meters of soil and rock.

Although clearing operations are ongoing, DPWH-MPDEO could not say when the road will be opened to vehicles.

"If only the rains would stop," Assistant Regional Director Alexander Castañeda said.

The rains keep work from progressing more quickly because whenever portions of the slide are taken away by loaders and dump trucks, more debris fall on the road.

Personnel of the Omengan Construction and Development Corporation are working on the Baguio side of the slide, while the DPWH-MPDEO is working on the Bontoc side.

"We will try for 24-hour work, but with the rains still pouring, even that would not be enough to open the road the soonest," Castañeda said.

Compounding the problem is the refusal of residents near the site to allow workmen to dump the collected debris just a few meters away.

Castañeda said that on August 10, he and Robert Dacyon of Barangay Gonogon were able to convince the owner of a private property to allow the dumping of rocks and soil below the road.

On August 11, the owner gave in to the request of Castañeda and Dacyon, considering the time element for the clearing operation, thus speeding up the phase of the work.

Castañeda estimated that it will take a week or two more before the road could be rendered passable again.

Travelers coming from Central Bontoc, Benguet and Baguio City have to hike for 20-30 minutes, passing two hanging foot bridges and a cemented pathway along the rice fields of the barangay. Buses, vans and tricycles at both ends of the slide ferry commuters to their destinations. Another 20 minutes is added to the travel time because of the problem.

Castañeda said vehicle owners may also use the Benguet to Vizcaya Road then the Banaue to Bontoc Road. The trip is about eight hours long. (Ferdie Castañeda/SB)