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International Aid Reaches Philippine Village Buried by Mudslide, May be Too Late

  • Douglas Bakshian

Hopes have faded of finding more survivors of a landslide that buried a village of 1,800 people on the Philippine island of Leyte. Only about 57 survivors have been found, and they were rescued Friday, shortly after the disaster hit. However, search efforts are continuing, and international help is arriving.

Search teams at Guinsaugon village on Leyte island focused on a buried elementary school that was said to hold as many as 300 students and teachers at the time of the mudslide. Rescuers were also digging around a village hall, where several hundred people were attending a conference when the disaster struck.

Anthony Golez, spokesman for the National Disaster Coordinating Council, says Taiwan has sent heat-seeking equipment to help in the effort.

"The government of Taiwan has sent a team composed of 55 persons with movement and life sensors," he said. "They have this device that can track movement and life. And they're going to use it to help with the search-and-rescue operation."

The Philippine government and international agencies are sending relief supplies to the area, but the roads to the area are bad.

American helicopters pitched in Sunday, delivering water, blankets, food and other supplies for people from the many barangays, or villages, on the island. They flew from two Navy warships based in Okinawa, which are carrying a thousand marines and 17 helicopters. Navy Captain Mark Donahue, who has flown over the stricken village, says the helicopters offer great flexibility.

"The helicopters will be very valuable in shuttling relief supplies to the displaced people," he said. "There's a whole lot of barangays up the valley. And, they have evacuated them all for fear that another slide will come. So, those people are down in Saint Bernard and a couple of other locations, and they need life support."

Saint Bernard is the main town close to the buried village. The Marines placed a 15-member survey team there to coordinate whatever other American help might be needed, and Navy and Marine personnel have been shuttling back and forth.

Relief workers Sunday got a break from the weather as the rain, which has plagued the area for days, finally stopped.

"We are lucky today that the whole day it did not rain," said Adriano Fuego, a regional civil defense official. "The mud is still more or less 20 feet (six meters) [deep], but we have techniques how to do [deal] with it."

Landslides are not uncommon in the tropical, rainy Philippines. A series of storms in 2004 left as many as 1,800 people dead northeast of Manila. Leyte itself was devastated in 1991, when more than five-thousand people died in flooding caused by a typhoon.

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