1,800 Feared Dead After Philippine Landslide

Hopes faded on Saturday, February 18, for some 1,800 people in a central Philippines village engulfed by a torrent of mud and rock when a rain-soaked mountain collapsed on homes and a crowded school.

1,800 Feared Dead After Philippine Landslide

A day after the landslide, only 35 bodies had been pulled from the reddish soil and 57 survivors found, Reuters quoted as saying Rosette Lerias, governor of Southern Leyte province.

Friday's disaster occurred as children and mothers celebrated women's day at the main school in the village of Guinsaugon, a farming village about 675 km (420 miles) southeast of Manila.

Two groups of soldiers tried in vain to get into the school on Saturday.

"They had to withdraw. They couldn't enter," Lerias said. "We are continuing with our operations. We have not lost hope."

Officials confirmed in a statement that 206 pupils and 40 teachers are trapped inside an elementary school buried by the massive landslide, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).

There has been confusion over the actual number of people who lived in the village. The 2000 census put the population at 1,411 while local officials have put the population at around 3,000.

President Gloria Arroyo ordered the Coast Guard and naval units in the central Visayas region to the area, with naval vessels to be used as floating hospitals and command centers for relief and rescue.

Two C-130 aircraft carrying search and rescue teams and 26,000 pounds (11,700 kg) of medical supplies headed to the area early Saturday. Seven evacuation centers were set up.

International Aid

A major international aid effort has got under way shortly after the disaster.

The Red Cross appealed for two million Swiss francs (1.28 million euros, 1.52 million dollars) to help to fund the aid operation.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which earlier announced it had released 200,000 Swiss francs from its emergency coffers, urged donors to come forward fast, AFP said.

The funds will be used to buy "cooking utensils, mosquito nets, temporary shelter materials, health and hygiene articles, water containers and purification tablets for survivors over the next six months," it said.

In Australia, the government aid agency, AusAID, pledged one million dollars (740,000 US) in immediate aid which it said would be made available to the Philippine National Red Cross and other relief agencies.

The funds would be used to carry out urgent tasks such as evacuating survivors, setting up shelters and trauma counseling, as well as meeting the more basic needs of food, clothing and related emergency items, it said.

The United States also offered condolences and said it has sent two military ships to help in the coordination of disaster relief and will provide resources to help fund the immediate response.

"We will continue to coordinate our response efforts with the government of the Philippines, and we'll look for ways to best support them in this hour of need," a US spokesman said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs announced it was deploying a disaster assessment and coordination team to strengthen the UN office in Manila helping the Philippine government.

Pope Benedict XVI Friday expressed his "deep sadness" at the disaster in the mainly Roman Catholic country and called for "generous and rapid" aid for the survivors.

Japan also expressed its sympathy and announced it was "preparing for appropriate assistance."

Japan, Asia's biggest economy, puts a priority on close relations with Southeast Asia and was a major donor after the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004.

Few Survivors

Two battered and bruised young children were Saturday among the few lucky to be still alive after being plucked from the sea of mud. They are among just dozens believed to have survived.

One-year-old Anthony Enso Jr was found by rescue workers Friday covered in mud.

His father Anthony sat at his bedside still in shock, not knowing what has become of the rest of their family.

"I work on a farm a few kilometers away from the village," he said, sobbing.

"I left in the morning and came home at around noon for lunch and there was nothing."

He searched desperately for his wife, Mera, and son. Rescue workers told him some children were nearby at Anahawan. He walked several kilometers (miles) and found his baby bruised and covered in mud.

"I am just hoping that my wife will be found alive," he said, comforting his crying son. Enso's nephews and nieces who lived with him are also missing.

In a bed nearby, six-year-old Rosmarie Sibunga was still in shock with bruises and cuts to most of her tiny body.

In a whisper she said: "When the landslide happened I just ran and ran. I was hit and fell over and the mud covered me."

She does not know how long she was buried, but when she heard the rescue workers, "I stuck my hand into the air and called out for help."

Rosmarie was comforted by her father Ricardo, 35. Her mother, two sisters, two brothers and grandmother are missing.

"This is a very painful time for me," her father said. "I can't say any more. I have lost my family ... I am just thankful one of my children is alive."

The Philippines is hit by about 20 typhoons each year, with residents and environmental groups often blaming illegal logging or mining for making natural disasters worse.

"Unless the nation undertakes a serious reforestation program, we will be seeing more deadly landslides," the Philippine Star newspaper said in an editorial.

A series of storms in late 2004 left about 1,800 people dead or presumed dead northeast of the capital. On Leyte island in 1991, more than 5,000 died in floods triggered by a monstrous typhoon.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16