Friday, February 17, 2006

+'No Signs of Life' After Huge Mudslide:February 17, 2006, 12:09 pm PST

By PAUL ALEXANDER, Associated Press Writer

MANILA, Philippines - A rain-soaked mountainside disintegrated into a torrent of mud in the eastern Philippines on Friday, swallowing hundreds of houses and an elementary school in sludge three stories high. At least 23 bodies were recovered, but 1,500 people were missing and feared dead.

The farming village of Guinsaugon on Leyte island, 420 miles southeast of Manila, was virtually wiped out, with only a few jumbles of corrugated steel sheeting left to show that the community of some 2,500 people ever existed.

"It sounded like the mountain exploded, and the whole thing crumbled," survivor Dario Libatan told Manila radio DZMM. "I could not see any house standing anymore."

Southern Leyte province Gov. Rosette Lerias said: "There are no signs of life, no rooftops, no nothing."

Two other villages were inundated, and about 3,000 evacuees were at a municipal hall.

"We did not find injured people," said Ricky Estela, a crewman on a helicopter that flew a politician to the scene. "Most of them are dead and beneath the mud."

The mud was so deep — up to 30 feet in some places — and unstable that rescue workers had difficulty approaching the school, which was in session when the landslide occurred between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m.

Lerias told the British Broadcasting Corp. the school had 246 students and seven teachers. Only one child and one adult had been recovered.

About 100 people also were visiting the village for a women's group meeting.

The Philippine army and air force, and the Red Cross, were on the scene, but search-and-rescue efforts were called off at nightfall, Lerias said. She asked for people to dig by hand, saying the mud was too soft for heavy equipment.

"All those who could have come today have come," she told BBC. "We hope to be able to rescue some more people."

The U.S. military dispatched at least two warships and other forces to the area to provide medical assistance and other relief, officials said.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Brian Maka said the military was dispatching the USS Essex and the USS Harper's Ferry, and possibly other ships. He said Army and Marine Corps ground forces that happened to be in the Philippines also were available to help.

Maka said it was not immediately clear how many U.S. troops would be sent to the disaster scene, but he said nearly 6,000 happened to be in the region as participants in the annual "Balikatan" exercise with the Philippine military.

"Help is on the way," President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in televised remarks. "It will come from land, sea and air."

Sen. Richard Gordon, head of the Philippine Red Cross, issued the casualty estimates and made an international appeal for aid.
There appeared to be little hope for finding many survivors, and only 53 were extricated from the brown morass before dark halted rescue efforts, officials said.

"I have a glimmer of hope, based on the rule of thumb — within 24 hours you can still find survivors," Lerias said. "After that, you move on to the recovery phase, but right now it's still rescue mode."

Aerial TV footage showed a wide swath of mud amid stretches of rice paddies at the foothills of the now-scarred mountain, where survivors blamed illegal logging for contributing to the disaster.
A small earthquake also shook the area, but scientists said it occurred after the landslide and likely was unrelated. Flash floods also were inundating the area, and the rumble of a secondary landslide sent rescuers scurrying for safety.

Rescue workers dug with shovels for signs of survivors, and put a child on a stretcher, with little more than the girl's eyes showing through a covering of mud. Other survivors were piled onto heavy construction equipment and driven to safety.

Volunteers from nearby provinces were quickly being joined by groups of troops being ferried in by helicopter, with more en route by sea.

Army Capt. Edmund Abella said he and about 30 soldiers from his unit were soaking wet from wading through waist-deep mud.

"The people said the ground suddenly shook, then a part of the mountain collapsed onto the village," Abella told AP by cell phone. "Some houses were carried by the mudflow, some were destroyed and other were buried.

"It's very difficult, we're digging by hand, the place is so vast and the mud is so thick. When we try to walk, we get stuck in the mud."

He said troops had just rescued a 43-year-old woman.

"She was crying and looking for her three nephews, but they were nowhere to be found," Abella said.

While the official death toll was only 23, Lerias said 375 houses in Guinsaugon were feared buried after two weeks of nonstop rains blamed on the La Nina weather phenomenon. The village had 1,857 registered residents, she said.

"The ground has really been soaked because of the rain," Lerias said. "The trees were sliding down upright with the mud."
She said about 100 acres were covered in thick mud that remained unstable.

"Our communication line was cut because our people had to flee because the landslide appeared to be crawling," Lerias said.

Rep. Roger Mercado, who represents Southern Leyte, said the mud covered coconut trees and damaged the national highway leading to the village.

Lerias said many residents evacuated the area last week due to the threat of landslides or flooding but started returning home during increasingly sunny days, with the rains limited to evening downpours.

In 1944, the waters off Leyte island became the scene of the biggest naval battle in history, when U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur fulfilled his famed vow "I shall return" and routed Japanese forces occupying the Philippines during World War II.
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.

Last weekend, seven road construction workers died in a landslide after falling into a 150-foot deep ravine in the mountain town of Sogod on Leyte.

Hundreds feared dead in mudslide
By Dolly Aglay

MANILA (Reuters) - Hundreds of people were feared dead in the central Philippines after mudslides triggered by heavy rains buried houses and an elementary school packed with children on Friday, officials and witnesses said.

Footage from local television showed only coconut trees and a few tin roofs sticking out of the reddish soil after part of a mountainside collapsed on the farming village of Guinsaugon in Southern Leyte province.

"Rescuers are scared because they can still hear the mountain rumbling," said Maria Lim, the mayor of Saint Bernard town, where a minor earthquake was felt on Friday morning.

Rain, chest-deep mud, blocked roads, washed-out bridges and lack of heavy equipment were hindering rescue efforts. Relief flights and digging were suspended for the night.

"The troops pulled out because big boulders are cascading down the mountain," said Colonel Raul Farnacio, in charge of the military's relief operations.

He said 15 bodies had been recovered and 36 survivors found in Guinsaugon, a community of about 1,860 people.

"Help is on the way," President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said on television, adding navy and coast guard ships were rushing to the remote coastal area.

Rosette Lerias, governor of Southern Leyte, said the local school was full of children and also women who were celebrating the anniversary of a local women's group.

"I don't see any homes, I don't see any buildings. It's just mud," she told CNN. "Oh God, this is truly tragic."

One survivor, Didita Kamarenta, feared for her children.

"I felt the earth shake and a strong gust of wind, then I felt mud at my feet," she said. "All the children, including my two children, are lost. They might have been buried."

In Geneva, the International Federation of the Red Cross said it feared the death toll would be high since 90 percent of the area was affected by the landslide.

"A relief plane is flying from the capital of Manila carrying 1,000 body bags, emergency trauma kits to help 1,000 people, rubber boots, ropes, clothing, flashlights and medicine," it said, adding it released about $150,000 in initial assistance.

The U.S. embassy said a navy vessel, in the Philippines for annual military exercises, would help with the rescue efforts.


The Philippines is lashed by about 20 typhoons each year, including a series of storms in late 2004 that left about 1,800 people dead or missing in provinces northeast of the capital.

Sixteen people were killed earlier this week when heavy rains and flash floods hit southeastern provinces.

Leyte island was the scene of one of the country's worst disasters in 1991 when more than 5,000 people died in floods triggered by a typhoon.

Congressman Roger Mercado said residents had been advised to leave the village after weeks of heavy rain but he laid some of the blame on mining and logging in the area three decades ago.

"They would not evacuate," he said. "This is the effect of the logging before. Every time it rains there are flashfloods."

Earthquake experts said the small tremor on Friday did not appear strong enough to have triggered a landslide on its own.

"The area could have really been ready for a landslide because of the rain," said Rene Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

Farmers and government agencies have been told to prepare for a stormy La Nina weather pattern that might hit the country. The weather bureau said typhoons, floods and rains since November might be linked to development of La Nina.

The Philippines grows rice, corn, coconuts, mangoes and other tropical fruit.

(With reporting by Carmel Crimmins and Rosemarie Francisco)

Related Links and Information:

Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS)

Mission or objectives:
The principal goal of PHIVOLCS is to formulate up-to-date and comprehensive disaster preparedness and loss reduction actions plans for volcanic eruption earthquake occurrences and related geotectonic processes/phenomena (e.g. imprint significant impacts on man and his exploit the positive aspects of these processes for the upliftment of the people’s quality of life.

Contact Person:
Director: Dr. Raymundo S. Punongbayan
Address: C.P. Garcia Avenue,
1100 Quezon City
Tel. (63) 2 -426-1468 to 79
Fax. (63) 2-926-3225

Brief Description:

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) is the government agency which is principally mandated to avert natural disasters and mitigate hazards arising from geotectonic phenomena, particularly volcanic eruptios and earthquakes. Its ultimate goal is to formulate up-to-date and comprehensive disaster preparedness plans for volcanic eruptions, earthquake occurrences and related geotectonic processes (e.g. faulting, lanslides, and tsunamis) which imprint significant impacts on the human environment. A corollary goal is to exploit the positive aspects of volcanism for the upliftment of the people’s quality of life. In line with its role in the promotion of science and technology in the country, PHIVOLCS further undertake activities towards making people aware of volcanoes and volcanology, earthquakes and seismology, and understand why, where and how natural disasters of volcanic and seismic origins occur in the Philippines.

Profile: Philippines


The Philippine Islands became a Spanish colony during the 16th century; they were ceded to the US in 1898 following the Spanish-American War. In 1935 the Philippines became a self-governing commonwealth. Manuel QUEZON was elected President and was tasked with preparing the country for independence after a 10-year transition. In 1942 the islands fell under Japanese occupation during WWII, and US forces and Filipinos fought together during 1944-45 to regain control.

On 4 July 1946 the Philippines attained their independence. The 21-year rule of Ferdinand MARCOS ended in 1986, when a widespread popular rebellion forced him into exile and installed Corazon AQUINO as president. Her presidency was hampered by several coup attempts, which prevented a return to full political stability and economic development. Fidel RAMOS was elected president in 1992 and his administration was marked by greater stability and progress on economic reforms.

In 1992, the US closed its last military bases on the islands. Joseph ESTRADA was elected president in 1998, but was succeeded by his vice-president, Gloria MACAPAGAL-ARROYO, in January 2001 after ESTRADA's stormy impeachment trial on corruption charges broke down and widespread demonstrations led to his ouster. MACAPAGAL-ARROYO was elected to a six-year term in May 2004. The Philippine Government faces threats from armed communist insurgencies and from Muslim separatists in the south.

Location: Southeastern Asia, archipelago between the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea, east of Vietnam

Geographic coordinates: 13 00 N, 122 00 E

Map Area: total: 300,000 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly larger than Arizona

Natural hazards: astride typhoon belt, usually affected by 15 and struck by five to six cyclonic storms per year; landslides; active volcanoes; destructive earthquakes; tsunamis

Environment - current issues: uncontrolled deforestation especially in watershed areas; soil erosion; air and water pollution in major urban centers; coral reef degradation; increasing pollution of coastal mangrove swamps that are important fish breeding grounds

87,857,473 (July 2005 est.)

Illicit drugs: exports locally-produced marijuana and hashish to East Asia, the US, and other Western markets; serves as a transit point for heroin and crystal methamphetamine; domestic methamphetamine production is a growing problem; remains on Financial Action Task Force Non-Cooperative Countries and Territories List for continued failure to address deficiencies in money-laundering control regime

This page was last updated on 10 January, 2006

Comment: Who or what is ultimately to blame? Is it Nature, government neglect or capitalist greed? Could it of been prevented? What other so-called natural disasters lie in wait upon the planet? ~Peta de Aztlan

"Congressman Roger Mercado said residents had been advised to leave the village after weeks of heavy rain but he laid some of the blame on mining and logging in the area three decades ago."

"They would not evacuate," he said. "This is the effect of the logging before. Every time it rains there are flashfloods."

All who truly believe in the power of prayer should send sincere prayers up for the well-being of all those impacted by these terrible mudslides in the Phillippines.

No comments: