Makati City, 17 February 2006. Continuous rains caused a major landslide in the village of Guinsaugon in the town of St. Bernard, in the province of Southern Leyte at around 9 am (Manila time). Flash news reports quoted the provincial governor Rosette Lerias as saying that almost 90 per cent of the village had been covered by mud and boulders.
"I saw only three rooftops of houses and coconut tree tops. Everything is under feet of mud," Lerias said in a phone interview.
Witnesses claimed that an earthquake preceded the landslide. But the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology website recorded no tremor.
At least 200 are feared dead, with 1,500 considered missing. The Guinsaugon Elementary School was said to be buried under the mudslide. According to the local education division office, there were 253 school children, six teachers, and one principal who were in school for the annual achievement examination.
"Humanitarian response should be quick and immediate," said UNICEF Representative Nicholas Alipui, especially with hundreds of affected children. While awaiting reports from partners in the area, UNICEF assembled an emergency health pack to be delivered directly to the province. The pack contains boxes of essential drugs and equipment.
Provincial Social Welfare and Development Officer Ramona Quizon reported on the need to send heavy-duty digging equipment and generators to Barangay Guinsaugon as rescuers from the Armed Force of the Philippines, Red Cross, and other disaster response teams set out to recover survivors trapped under the mud.
As of 7:30 p.m., only 10 people have so far been rescued under the mud, including a five-year old girl. Unstable ground hampers the rescue operation. A possible landslide is still being feared as rescue workers report rumblings in the mountain called Can-abag.
Heavy rains have hammered the Western region of the Philippines since 8 February. In December 2003, over 500 persons died when mudslides buried two villages in the same province of Southern Leyte after continuous downpour.
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