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Philippine Red Cross Head Fears Mass Grave at Landslide Site


The Philippine Red Cross chief says he fears Guinsaugon has turned into a mass grave after the village on the central island of Leyte was buried by Friday's landslide. Recovery operations continue with hopes of finding possible survivors dwindling. The death toll estimate ranges from 900 to 1,300 people in this tragedy.

Relief officials say operations Monday intensified with more manpower and equipment reaching the landslide site at Guinsaugon village. Recovery efforts continue to be plagued by rainy and windy weather.

Philippine Senator Richard Gordon, who is also chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, says he is beginning to fear the worst.

"We have about 906 identified [confirmed] people underneath the rubble right now," he said. "So that may turn out to be a mass grave because the mudslide is really very deep. In some places, I'm told, it is 35 meters."

Some 1,800 people lived in the farming community of Guinsaugon before it was buried by mud last week.

Gordon was at the village Sunday and says the soil conditions are very unstable.

"It is very tricky. Imagine yourself walking on about 40 hectares of cake. In some places you'll end up, as if you are in quick sand," he said. "Because like yesterday some people, when they stepped, they sunk up to their thighs. So there are places, I'm sure, where you can get sunk all the way down."

Rescue teams from a number of countries are helping - including from Taiwan, Malaysia and the United States, which diverted two warships with Marines and helicopters to the area to lend assistance.

Meanwhile, fresh pledges of money or manpower came from South Korea, New Zealand and Australia.

Landslides are not uncommon in the tropical, rain-soaked Philippines.