February 21, 2006

Philippines seen set to call off mudslide search

By Roli Ng and Bobby Ranoco

GUINSAUGON, Philippines (Reuters) - Rescue workers kept
digging on Wednesday for survivors from a deadly Philippines
mudslide, but some officials said the time to call off the
search was fast approaching as hopes faded of finding anyone

Around 1,000 people remain missing after Friday's landslide
obliterated the remote farming community of Guinsaugon, about
675 km (420 miles) southeast of Manila.

So far, 107 bodies have been pulled out. No one has been
brought out alive from the fetid mud, which is up to 40 meters
deep in some places, since the disaster struck.

"It is torturous for the survivors. We need to concentrate
on preparing them for the future," a senior politician, who
declined to be named, told Reuters.

Around 400 people who escaped the tidal wave of earth and
debris, along with more than 1,600 people evacuated from
neighboring villages, are sheltering in parish churches and
schools while emergency teams dig up and then bury the dead.

Hopes of a miraculous recovery were raised on Monday
evening when search teams from Malaysia and Taiwan detected
some rhythmic noise near the site of packed elementary school.
No sound has been picked up since.

Rescuers, including U.S. Marines dispatched from annual
military exercises in the southern Philippines, are battling
deep, shifting mud which threatens to swallow them in places.

"At some point in time we will have to say that they are
too deep in there and that it is better to leave them be and
have the ground consecrated," Richard Gordon, chairman of the
Philippine National Red Cross, told Reuters.

"But while we have teams that want to work and we have the
resources we will continue."

Money and emergency goods from around the world have been
flown into Leyte province where Guinsaugon is located.

Congressman Roger Mercado said officials would soon have to
talk to survivors about resettling elsewhere on Leyte island,
in the central Philippines.

"There is a 2,000 hectare (4,942 acres) site about 5 to 7
kilometers (3-4 miles) from here which is available. We haven't
spoken to people about it yet because they are in a state of

Medical staff are monitoring survivors to prevent
infectious diseases such as chickenpox and measles from
spreading in the packed evacuation centers. Psychologists are
treating people for shock.

The Philippines is usually hit by about 20 typhoons each
year, with residents and environmental groups often blaming
illegal logging or mining for compounding the damage.

The province of Leyte is no stranger to disaster. In 1991,
more than 5,000 people died in floods triggered by a typhoon.