IN THE PHILIPPINES
This image taken from television shows rescue workers cleaning the face and body of an unidentified landslide survivor yesterday at the disaster site on Leyte island in the eastern Philippines. A rain-soaked mountainside disintegrated in an unstoppable wall of mud, killing an estimated 1,800 people.
1,800 feared dead
The search for survivors focuses on an elementary school as 11 other nearby villages are evacuated
GUINSAUGON, Philippines » Rescue workers held little hope today of finding more survivors from a devastating landslide that killed an estimated 1,800 people, saying this farming village in the eastern Philippines was swallowed whole by a wall of mud and boulders.
The search was focusing on an elementary school amid unconfirmed reports that relatives of some of the 250 children and teachers had received cell phone text messages from survivors.
Today, 11 other villages in the area were evacuated out of fear of further landslides. Guinsaugon, on the southern part of Leyte island, has been swamped with 27 inches of rain over the last two weeks.
The U.S. military dispatched two warships and 1,000 Marines to the area.
Soldiers were being shuttled to the disaster zone in the shovels of bulldozers that carried them across a shallow stream. With the mud estimated at 30 feet deep at some points, they were given sketches of the village so they could figure out approximately where the houses once stood.
Lt. Col. Raul Farnacio, the highest-ranking military officer at the scene, estimated the death toll at about 1,800.
"We presume that more or less that 1,800 are feared dead," a grim Farnacio said as search efforts resumed today in a drenching rain and high winds that made the task even more miserable.
This aerial view from a television image shows damage from a landslide on Leyte island in the eastern Philippines yesterday. A mountainside of mud buried an entire village yesterday, including hundreds of houses and an elementary school in the eastern Philippines.
Only 57 survivors have been found -- none so far today -- out of a population of 1,857. At least 24 bodies have been pulled from the mud, and a child who was rescued died overnight from head injuries.
Farnacio said the troops were digging only where they saw clear evidence of bodies because of the danger that the soft, unstable mud could shift and claim new victims.
"We can only focus on the surface," he said. "We cannot go too deep."
Low clouds hung over the area, obscuring the mountain that disintegrated yesterday morning after two weeks of heavy rain, covering the village's 375 homes and elementary school. Rescue workers trudged slowly through the sludge, stretchers and ambulances waiting for survivors or the bodies of victims.
Joining them was Dionisio Elmosora, a 42-year-old farmer who was looking for his wife and two sons.
"What's important is for me to find them even if they're dead," said Elmosora, his eyes bloodshot and his face grief-stricken. "I've not eaten since this thing happened."
The landslide left Guinsaugon looking like a giant patch of newly plowed land. Only a few jumbles of corrugated steel sheeting indicate the town ever existed.
"Our village is gone. Everything was buried in mud," Eugene Pilo, a survivor who lost his family, told local media yesterday. "All the people are gone."
PHILIPPINE AIR FORCE
VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
In this photo released by the Philippine Air Force, survivors gathered yesterday at St. Bernard town in Leyte, eastern Philippines. A rain-soaked mountainside disintegrated in an unstoppable wall of mud yesterday, leaving an estimated 1,800 people dead.
A helicopter pilot, Leo Dimaala, estimated that half the mountain had collapsed yesterday morning.
"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."
Aerial TV footage showed a wide swath of mud alongside stretches of green rice paddies at the foothills of the scarred mountain.
Pat Vendetti of the Greenpeace environmental action group said illegal logging might have contributed to the disaster.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies blamed a combination of the weather and the type of trees prevalent in the area.
"The remote coastal area of southern Leyte ... is heavily forested with coconut trees," the Red Cross said from Geneva, Switzerland. "They have shallow roots, which can be easily dislodged after heavy rains, causing the land to become unstable."
Southern Leyte province Gov. Rosette Lerias said many residents fled the area last week for fear of landslides, but sunny weather lured them back.
Army Capt. Edmund Abella said he and about 30 soldiers were wading through waist-deep mud and digging by hand.
"A few minutes ago, mounds of earth came down from the mountain again with the rain, and rescuers ran away to safety," Abella said.
Philippine Air Force personnel prepared to load relief goods and medical supplies on a military C-130 plane in suburban Manila today en route to victims of landslides in Leyte island.
Maria Lim, mayor of St. Bernard town that includes Guinsaugon, said the body of a British man, Trevor White, had been recovered far from his house, described as one of the best concrete structures in the village. His Filipino wife was missing.
"Help is on the way," President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in televised remarks. "It will come from land, sea and air."
The international Red Cross launched an emergency appeal for $1.5 million for relief operations.
The U.S. military dispatched the USS Harpers Ferry and the USS Essex to the area, along with 1,000 Marines. The United States also is sending money requested by the Philippine government for search and rescue, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said.
The U.S. warships, 17 helicopters and Marines had been participating in joint exercises with Philippine troops.
U.S. Charge d'Affaires Paul Jones said the ships were expected to reach southern Leyte province at daybreak tomorrow.
The two ships have the capability to transport 17 helicopters, 1,000 Marines, thousands of gallons of water-purification equipment, generators and blankets, he told a meeting on the disaster attended by Arroyo and various government officials.
Jones said the U.S. government also has turned over disaster equipment to the Philippine Red Cross, while thousands of blankets, jugs of water and plastic sheeting were expected to be handed over tomorrow.
The ships and nearly 6,000 U.S. military personnel are here to take part in annual joint exercises called Balikatan starting Monday around the country. The USS Essex was on its way to Jolo, where al-Qaida-linked militants have a presence.