Landslide buries homes

I think not
23 confirmed dead; Red Cross estimates 1,500 missing on Leyte island

MANILA, Philippines - Hundreds of villagers were feared dead after a rain-soaked mountainside disintegrated into a torrent of mud, swallowing hundreds of houses and an elementary school in the eastern Philippines on Friday. Twenty-three people were confirmed dead, and at least 1,500 were missing.

“It sounded like the mountain exploded, and the whole thing crumbled,” survivor Dario Libatan told Manila radio DZMM. “I could not see any house standing anymore.”

The farming village of Guinsaugon on Leyte island, 420 miles southeast of Manila, was virtually wiped out, with only a few jumbles of corrugated steel sheeting left to show that the community of some 2,500 people ever existed.

Two other villages also were affected, and about 3,000 evacuees were at a municipal hall.

“We did not find injured people,” said Ricky Estela, a crewman on a helicopter that flew a politician to the scene. “Most of them are dead and beneath the mud.”

The mud was so deep — up to 30 feet in some places — and unstable that rescue workers had difficulty approaching the school. Education officials said 200 students, six teachers and the principal were believed to have been there.

Digging suspended
By nightfall, relief flights and digging were suspended because of darkness and continued danger.

“The troops pulled out because big boulders are cascading down the mountain,” said Colonel Raul Farnacio, in charge of the military’s relief operations.

“Rescuers are scared because they can still hear the mountain rumbling,” added Maria Lim, the mayor of Saint Bernard town.

Sen. Richard Gordon, head of the Philippine Red Cross, said 1,500 people were missing.

The provincial governor asked for people to dig by hand, saying the mud was too soft for heavy equipment.

The U.S. embassy said a Navy vessel, in the Philippines for annual military exercises, would help with the rescue efforts.

Few rescued from mud
There appeared to be little hope for finding many survivors, and only about three dozen were extricated from the brown morass before dark halted rescue efforts for the night.

“It was like the whole village was wiped out,” said Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Restituto Padilla.

Aerial TV footage showed a wide swath of mud amid stretches of rice paddies at the foothills of the scarred mountain.

Congressman Roger Mercado said residents had been advised to leave the village after weeks of heavy rain but he laid some of the blame on mining and logging in the area three decades ago.

“They would not evacuate,” he said. “This is the effect of the logging before. Every time it rains there are flashfloods.”

Rescue workers dug with shovels for signs of survivors, and put a child on a stretcher, with little more than the girl’s eyes showing through a covering of mud.

“Let us all pray for those who perished and were affected by this tragedy,” President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in a statement. “Help is on the way,” she promised survivors. “You will soon be out of harm’s way.”

Volunteers from nearby provinces were quickly joined by groups of troops being ferried in by helicopter, with more en route by sea.

‘We’re digging by hand’
Army Capt. Edmund Abella said he and about 30 soldiers from his unit were soaking wet from wading through mud up to their waists. Flash floods also were inundating the area, and the rumble of a secondary landslide sent rescuers scurrying for safety.

“The people said the ground suddenly shook, then a part of the mountain collapsed onto the village,” Abella told AP by cell phone. “Some houses were carried by the mudflow, some were destroyed and others were buried.

“It’s very difficult, we’re digging by hand, the place is so vast and the mud is so thick. When we try to walk, we get stuck in the mud.”

He said the troops had just rescued a 43-year-old woman.

“She was crying and looking for her three nephews, but they were nowhere to be found,” Abella said.

While the official death toll was only 18, Southern Leyte province Gov. Rosette Lerias told radio DZBB that 500 houses in Guinsaugon were feared buried after nonstop rains for two weeks.

Children were in class
An elementary school was in session when the landslide struck between 9 and 10 a.m., and about 100 people were visiting the village for a women’s group meeting.

“The ground has really been soaked because of the rain,” Lerias said of downpours blamed on the La Nina weather phenomenon. “The trees were sliding down upright with the mud.”

She said about half a square mile was covered in thick mud that remained unstable.

“Our communication line was cut because our people had to flee because the landslide appeared to be crawling,” Lerias said.

Lerias said many residents evacuated the area last week due to the threat of landslides or flooding, but had started returning home during increasingly sunny days, with the rains limited to evening downpours.

6,000 killed in 1991
In November 1991, about 6,000 people were killed on Leyte in floods and landslides triggered by a tropical storm. Another 133 people died in floods and mudslides there in December 2003.

Last weekend, seven road construction workers died in a landslide after falling into a 150-foot deep ravine in the mountain town of Sogod on Leyte.

Leyte island is also the site of the biggest naval battle in history, when U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1944 fulfilled his famed vow “I shall return” and routed Japanese forces occupying the Philippines. (external - login to view)

You are prophetic! That topic you posted yesterday about naval rescue ops. Here's another example for the poor Phillipine people.

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