Sun, Feb 19, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Hope fading for Philippine villagers

CLOCK TICKING Rescuers were continuing to search for survivors after a mudslide buried a village, while the US sent 1,000 Marines and Taiwan pledged aid

AGENCIES , GUINSAUGON, PHILIPPINES AND TAIPEI

Rescue workers yesterday searched a sea of mud in vain for survivors of a massive landslide that killed up to 1,800 people, as officials worried about a repeat of the disaster.

Two US warships and 1,000 Marines were steaming to Leyte island in the eastern Philippines, where 11 villages were evacuated in the same area where the farming village of Guinsaugon was wiped out on Friday when half a mountain came crashing down after two weeks of torrential downpours.

Hopes were fading fast of finding anyone alive in the 40-hectare stretch of mud that was 10m deep in places.

"No one alive has been found today, only the dead," said Joselito Rabi, a provincial social worker.

Efforts focused on a swamped elementary school, with unconfirmed reports that some of the 250 students and teachers sent cellphone text messages to relatives. Sixty soldiers were dispatched to the scene in the morning, but had found nothing but bodies as dark fell.

"As of last [Friday] night, many received text messages from those trapped in the school," Southern Leyte Governor Rosette Lerias said.

"They have reportedly closed all windows and doors to stop mud and water from coming in," Lerias said.

"The operations will continue through the night," she added.

The search was complicated by heavy morning downpours, the threat that the adjacent mountain remained unstable and the possibility that 752 troops, firefighters and volunteers could get sucked down into the soft, shifting mud.

The situation was so dangerous that most would-be volunteers were kept out of the area, and a no-fly zone was established over the site because of fears that helicopters' downwash could set off a fresh landslide.

Weather forecasts said a low-pressure area over the Pacific Ocean about 900km southeast of Leyte was likely to generate rain over the landslide zone later yesterday and today before the weather improved.

Only 57 people have been plucked from the mud -- none yesterday -- out of a population of 1,857.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official said yesterday that Taiwan will donate US$100,000 to aid the relief effort.

In addition to the cash aid, MOFA Spokesman Michel Lu (呂慶龍) said the Department of Health is also donating 800kg of medical supplies, which was to be transported by China Airlines later in the day to Manila and then on to the disaster-hit area.

The medical emergency kits can meet the needs of 3,000 people for a one-and-a-half-month period, Lu said, adding that the government will continue offering help to the Philippines in cooperation with non-governmental organizations.

also see stories:

Search teams face morbid task

Geologists had warned on Leyte mudslide danger

'Our village is gone, everything was buried'

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