Rescuers yesterday pulled at least four survivors from a building that collapsed in mudslides 10 days ago, while officials raised the known death toll from storms that devastated the Philippines' northeast to at least 842. More than 750 people are missing.
The four survived by drinking "any kind of liquid that dripped" from the rubble that entrapped them, said Maria Tamares, 49, who was pulled out alive together with her three-year-old granddaughter and two teenage boys in Real, about 70km east of Manila.
Covered with blankets and lying on makeshift stretchers, they were immediately flown to a hospital in nearby Lucena city in a military helicopter after being given sips of coconut water.
"We felt like we were entombed between heaven and earth," Ta-mares said in a phone interview. "There was nothing but darkness. I thought our time had come."
Tamares and the others apparently had been trapped in the kitchen of a two-story building that was buried under piles of mud on Nov. 29, when the worst of two back-to-back storms battered the region, causing massive landslides and flash floods.
About 40 miners volunteering in the Real search heard voices in the rubble of the building and used sledgehammers, torches, hacksaws and bolt cutters to punch a hole through the thick concrete roof to reach the survivors.
"After waking up one time, we heard some pounding above us and we yelled, 'Help us, help us, we're alive in here,' and they found us," Tamara said from her bed at a military hospital in Lucena. "It was a miracle. Thank God he gave us a second life."
She said she and the others perspired profusely in the extreme heat of the tiny, pitch black crevice.
As rescue crews continued to pick their way through debris, the Office of Civil Defense raised the number of confirmed deaths from the storms by 102 to 842. It said 751 people were still missing.
Colonel Pablo Amisola, spokes-man for the military's Southern Luzon Command, said that soldiers, who were also assisting, "heard voices and they peeped through a hole and they saw at least 20 survivors." But he later said the reports of the sighting were unconfirmed.
In Manila, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo called the rescue of the four "a miracle" and said soldiers and volunteers would continue to search.
"They've been able to rescue some of them, so I'd like to thank God for that miracle and they are continuing to dig deeper to see if they can rescue any more," she said.
"We will continue our recovery efforts until in our judgment those that we have to recover have all been recovered," said the military's Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Efren Abu.