February 23, 2006

Philippine tribe fears for family after landslide

By Roli Ng and Bobby Ranoco

GUINSAUGON, Philippines (Reuters) - The Mamanua tribe knew
two months before a devastating landslide destroyed a community
in the central Philippines that something bad was going to

While out gathering rattan, a palm plant similar to bamboo,
the men noticed cracks on the ground of a ridge adjoining
Katmon, the mountain that crashed onto the village of
Guinsaugon on Friday leaving more than 1,000 people entombed.

"The cracks are a sign that there will be a landslide. What
else can you expect?" Ronnie Luzada, a 24 year old tribesman,
told Reuters.

Sammy Lantaaw, the leader of the curly-haired mountain
dwellers, said they felt an earthquake the night before Katmon
collapsed: "I felt the earth shake. The plates and water
containers fell from the table."

Scared, those tribespeople that could afford the bus fare
to the nearest town, fled. But around two-thirds of their
112-strong village were left behind.

"We are so worried about them," Nita Exclamado, 33, a
mother of six, said as she sat on a piece of cardboard at the
bus terminal in St Bernard, the town where many evacuees are
being housed while they wait, in desperation, for a miracle for
their loved ones.

No one has been brought out alive since Friday, when two
weeks of heavy rain triggered the mudslide over Guinsaugon, a
close-knit farming village about 675 km (420 miles) southeast
of Manila.


Rescuers, including U.S. Marines dispatched from annual
military exercises, had to temporarily call off search efforts
on Thursday because driving rain and days of digging in the
soft, fetid mud raised the risk of further landslides.

"Our geologists are studying the area for fear of
mudslides. It was raining hard this morning," Colonel Raul
Farnacio, in charge of the Philippine army's rescue operations,
told Reuters.

U.S. marines had to helicopter seven Taiwanese rescue
workers to safety after they got stuck in the mud, which is 30
meters (100 feet) deep in some places and covers a 9 square
kilometer (3.5 square mile) area.

So far, 122 bodies have been pulled out and around 1,000
people remain missing.

Hopes of a miraculous recovery were raised on Monday when
search teams heard rhythmic noise near the site of a packed
elementary school buried under metros of mud.

But no sound has been picked up since and claims earlier
this week that the school had been located proved premature.

Teams are still searching for the building, which was
thought to have been swept off its foundations by the tidal
wave of earth.

Rescuers also scotched media reports that a live chicken
had been found 15 metros under the mud: "It's quite impossible
for a chicken to live in that condition," said Adriano Fuego,
Director of the Office of Civil Defense.

Some officials have said privately there is no hope of
digging anyone out alive, but provincial governor Rosette
Lerias said the rescue effort would continue.

Around 400 people who escaped, along with around 1,600
people evacuated from neighboring villages, are sheltering in
packed parish churches and schools while emergency teams dig up
and then bury the dead.

The Philippines is usually hit by about 20 typhoons each
year, but environmental groups such as Greenpeace blame the
government for turning a blind eye to illegal logging or
mining, which makes the ground unstable.

Locals were evacuated a week before Friday's disaster
struck because of the heavy rains but many came back when there
was a brief break in the downpour. (Additional reporting by
Rosemarie Francisco and Dolly Aglay in Manila)