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More than 100 Feared Dead in Philippine Landslides, Floods - 2003-12-20

More than 100 people are feared dead, after several days of torrential rains triggered landslides on the southern Philippine island of Leyte.

Most people were sleeping when the landslides hit the towns of San Francisco and Liloan in Southern Leyte Province Friday evening.

The provincial governor, Rosete Lerias, says an initial count showed that 80 houses were buried in San Francisco, after heavy rains triggered landslides all over the province. She says more than 200 people were rescued from the disaster sites in the early hours.

Around 150 families who fled the towns are being sheltered at nearby evacuation centers, and Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said food and medicine are being rushed to them.

Search and rescue efforts are being hampered by landslides blocking the road leading to the affected areas. Several bridges have been washed away, preventing heavy equipment from being brought in.

Antonio Maamo, vice mayor of Liloan town, says rescuers are have to use shovels and iron bars to dig through the mud and rocks, and appealed to the public for help.

Radio reports from the disaster site quote witnesses as saying recovered bodies are being laid out by the side of the road.

No official death toll has been released yet.

National Security Advisor Roilo Golez says it may take several days until the full extent of the disaster is known. He says six days of torrential rains is responsible for the avalanche.

"It's [due to] heavy rains," explained Roilo Golez. "The first time something like this has happened on that island, back in, I think, 1990, 1991, there was a big flood on the same island, caused by heavy rains, which killed several thousands."

In that 1991 incident, a flash flood struck the Leyte town of Ormoc. The flooding was blamed on illegal logging.