Saturday, February 18, 2006

Deep Mud Slows Philippine Search Effort

GUINSAUGON, Philippines - Hoping for a miracle, rescue workers in the Philippines searched for survivors Saturday in an elementary school swamped by a massive landslide that buried this town and killed some 1,800 people.
No more survivors were found, however, and reports that students and teachers sent cell phone text messages from inside went unconfirmed, leaving the search effort dispirited and empty-handed.
The landslide, which followed two weeks of heavy rains, was believed to have killed nearly every man, woman and child in the farming village of Guinsaugon, which was covered with mud up to 30 feet deep.
The situation was so delicate that a no-fly zone was established over the area out of concern that blasts of air from the helicopters' rotors could send the mud oozing again in Guinsaugon, about 400 miles southeast of the capital, Manila.
Only 57 people were plucked from the mud Friday from Guinsaugon's population of 1,857. At least 56 bodies were recovered.
Air Force Rescue Group said rescue workers shouted and used stones to bang on boulders in hopes that survivors would hear. There was only silence, he said..
Everyone's only hoping for "a miracle".
Survivors and relatives of the missing had trouble even figuring out where houses once stood in the 100-acre stretch of mud. Soldiers, firefighters and volunteers were given sketches of the village as it stood just days ago, but all the landmarks had been wiped away.
"It's hard to find the houses now," said Eunerio Bagaipo, a 42-year-old farmer who lost two brothers, almost 20 nieces and nephews and a number of in-laws. "There is nothing now, just earth and mud."
The search was complicated by heavy morning downpours, the threat that the mountain remained unstable and the possibility that 750 troops, firefighters and volunteers could get sucked down into the soft, shifting mud.
Many residents of the landslide area were evacuated last week due to the threat of landslides or flooding following the heavy rains, but had started returning home when the rains let up and days turned sunny.
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.
Associated Press correspondent Oliver Teves contributed to this report from Guinsaugon.

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