85 rescued, thousands feared dead in Philippine landslide

Friday, February 17, 2006

BBC News is now reporting that at least 83 people were rescued after a massive landslide buried three villages in Saint Bernard, Southern Leyte province, in central Philippines, Friday. So far, 19 people have been confirmed dead. Up to 1,500 are thought to still be missing. The Red Cross has despatched a plane with rescuers and basic equipment; they have also appealed for US$1.5 million for relief supplies for the affected area.

It is believed that the slides were triggered by heavy rains of up to 200cm (79 inches) in just 10 days and an earthquake of magnitude 2.6. Some residents had already left the area previous to the disaster fearing landslides but had returned following easing of the rain.

Houses and an elementary school packed with children were buried, officials and witnesses said. Photographs and footage show only coconut trees and a few tin roofs sticking out of the soil after part of a mountainside collapsed on the farming village of Guinsaugon in Southern Leyte province.

Rescue efforts are being hampered due to continual rock falls, washed out bridges, chest deep mud and a lack of heavy equipment. "Rescuers are scared because they can still hear the mountain rumbling," said Maria Lim, the mayor of Saint Bernard, where a minor earthquake was felt on Friday morning. President Gloria Arroyo has ordered the navy and the coast to the area to assist with relief efforts when conditions improve. Two US vessels are also on their way to help.