Sun, Feb 19, 2006 - Page 4 News List

'Our village is gone, everything was buried'


Filipino Michael Labador grieves over the body of his only son who was killed in the massive landslide on Friday in Guinsaugon village in Leyte, southeast of Manila.


Dario Libatan quickly stood up and rushed toward a team of rescuers in the hope of seeing his wife and children who are feared dead in a huge landslide that wiped out their village in the eastern Philippines.

The 28-year-old farmer was in a state of disbelief over the tragedy that befell the once vibrant farming community, nestled in what used to be a picturesque valley in Saint Bernard town in Southern Leyte province, 675km southeast of Manila.

"I left my wife and three children at home while I went to the farm," he muttered. "It happened so fast. I don't think they survived. But I'm still hoping they are still alive."

"It happened in seconds," he said. "The earth shook, then then there was grumbling and then I saw a large chunk of mountain falling."

Libatan and his eight other companions were lucky to run to safer grounds, but are now facing an agonizing wait for news on the fate of their families with rescue operations being hampered by continuous rains, heavy fog and the soft mud.

Some survivors have joined rescuers, but were aghast after finding that their village has turned into a virtual wasteland with nothing but mud, boulders and debris on sight.

"So many died," said a grief-stricken Eugene Pilo, whose wife and children were among the missing and feared dead, as he surveyed the devastation. "Our village is gone, everything was buried in mud. All the people are gone."

Only 27 bodies have been recovered, including the body of a man believed to be British.

Officials said at least 1,500 people were missing and their chances of survival dimmed by the seconds.

"It has been 24 hours since the accident, and we fear that the chance of survival is now only 10 percent," said Edwin Pamonag, a local Red Cross official.

Saint Bernard town Mayor Maria Lim also had little hope of getting good news.

"Personally, I think there would be no more survivors," she said. "Imagine, you can't even see the rooftops of houses. How can you survive something like that?"

Among those missing are 246 students and teachers who were holding classes at the village's elementary school, which was located at the foot of the mountain that collapsed.

At a nearby health center, the women in the village were having a party. The facility was also buried.

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