At a glance: Philippines

Relief arriving for survivors of mudslide tragedy

UNICEF Image
© REUTERS/Bobby Yip
Rosmarie Sibunga, 6, lies on a hospital bed after being rescued from Guinsaugon village, which was buried by the mudslides. She climbed up a coconut tree to escape. Rosmarie's mother is still missing.

By Nilo A. Yacat and Sabine Dolan

ST. BERNARD, Philippines, 20 February 2006 – International aid has begun to pour in for the survivors of Friday’s mudslide in the Philippines. The first shipments of UNICEF supplies – including essential drugs, medical equipment and water purification tablets – arrived the next day. Relief efforts are being coordinated with the Philippines Armed Forces and the Red Cross.

At this time an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 people are still considered missing. More than 80 bodies have been recovered.

Continued rain is hampering the search and rescue effort and could even cause a second mudslide. “Right now the situation is pretty desperate,” said UNICEF Representative to the Philippines Dr. Nicholas Alipui. “There are forecasts of a new tropical depression in the same area and forecasts of even bigger mudslides, so we are preparing for the worst.”

UNICEF Image
© REUTER/Romeo Ranoco
The supplies being carried by these Philippine soldiers at the Tacloban airport are destined for hundreds of mudslide victims in the province of Leyte.

Evacuation centres

At around 9 a.m. on Friday 17 February, a massive torrent of mud swept over the village of Guinsaugon, in the province of Leyte. Continuous rain for the past two weeks had eroded a portion of the slope of Mt. Can-abag, causing the mudslide that covered 90 per cent of the village.

Over 300 houses were buried in a matter of minutes, as was an elementary school. “The focus of the search and rescue has been the school, where 253 pupils were gathered for the national achievement test on that Friday when the tragedy happened,” said Dr. Alipui.

Only 20 children have been rescued, including a one-year old girl. Six teachers and one principal are among the missing.

Over 4,000 people from adjacent villages have been moved to seven evacuation centres.

Relief kits

UNICEF Representative Nicholas Alipui says there has been a massive show of support from neighbouring countries and the international community. A 200-strong team of US Marines is helping with the relief effort. “A major challenge now is to coordinate all the support coming in,” he says.

UNICEF Image
© REUTERS/Stringer
A villager holds a picture of his son as local rescuers are joined by U.S. Marines and workers from Taiwan and Malaysia, in the village of Guinsaugon.

Relief assistance is focusing on water and sanitation, providing medical assessments, and ensuring adequate nutrition for the survivors. A UN Disaster Coordination Team will be soon dispatched to southern Leyte to assess the emergency needs.

On Tuesday, UNICEF will send a second relief team with medical staff and prepacked relief kits for 1,400 evacuated families.  The kits contain mosquito nets, blankets, mats, kitchen utensils, dinnerware, and water jugs.

“The families in the evacuation centres want to cook their own meals but they have nothing to use,” says social worker Romana Quizon who is anxiously waiting for the kits.

Geohazards

Additional medical supplies are urgently being sought. Some children staying in evacuation centres have upper respiratory tract infections or are suffering from diarrhoea, which can be life-threatening in these conditions due to dehydration.

UNICEF is working with local authorities to restart educational activities for the 800 school children from the affected communities.

In January 2004, UNICEF provided emergency assistance to the towns of San Ricardo and Liloan when landslides buried two villages, killing over 200 people and affecting more than 2,000 families.

Geohazards identified in Southern Leyte include erosion and associated landslides in the mountains and proximity to the undersea Philippine Trench, a site of seismic activity.

UNICEF is presently monitoring the weather situation in seven coastal communities along the eastern seaboards. “Already, there’s been too much suffering,” said Dr. Alipui.

Eric Mullerbeck contributed to this story.


 

 

Audio

20 February 2006:
UNICEF Representative to the Philippines Dr. Nicholas Alipui describes the devastation wrought by the mudslides in Leyte province.
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