Rescue teams continue search for survivors of mudslide | At a glance: Philippines | UNICEF

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At a glance: Philippines

Rescue teams continue search for survivors of mudslide

© UNICEF Phillippines/2006/ Fortin
This woman and her child survived the mudslide. They are staying in the St. Bernard evacuation centre.

By Joseph Fortin and Nilo Yacat

ST. BERNARD, Philippines, 22 February 2006 – Although time is running out, rescue teams in the Philippines have continued to dig in hopes of finding more survivors from last Friday’s deadly mudslide.

But officials say the search will soon be called off if no more survivors are found. The Philippines' National Disaster Coordinating Council says 107 bodies have been found so far, and 19 people have been rescued.

Over 1,600 people from communities in the area have been moved to five evacuation centres in St. Bernard. At this time, 980 people are still considered missing.

International aid to help survivors and evacuees continues to arrive. UNICEF has sent shipments of vital supplies including essential drugs, medical equipment and water purification tablets. Relief efforts are being coordinated with the Philippines Armed Forces and the Red Cross.

© UNICEF Phillippines/2006/ Fortin
Rescue workers search for survivors of the massive mudslide.

‘I ran and took my son’

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

Friday was a sunny day. The pleasant weather gave no warning of the disaster that was to hit the village. Mary Grace Bulagsac, 30, recalled the moment: “I was hanging laundry to dry under the sun, when I heard a rumble, like the sound of a helicopter.”

“Then, I saw the mudflow. I ran and took my son. We ran all the way to the rice field with my mother.”

Mary Grace and her son survived. Her husband was working in the fields when the mudslide occurred. He is listed as missing.

Search and rescue

The US military had been taking part in exercises in the southern Philippines. When disaster struck, they dispatched rescue teams, who arrived in St. Bernard township on Sunday 19 February and began work alongside teams from other countries.

Continuous rain hampered the search and rescue effort and provoked fears of another mudslide.

The rain stopped for some time on Tuesday, allowing rescue workers to penetrate deeper into the disaster zone to the place where an elementary school and many houses were presumed to be buried. Seismic listening devices brought by Taiwanese and Malaysian teams were used to assist in the search.

© UNICEF Phillippines/2006/ Fortin
Rooftop of a house demolished by the massive mudslide in Guinsaugon village. Nearly 300 houses were destroyed in a matter of minutes.

Relief assistance

UNICEF Representative Nicholas Alipui says there has been a massive show of support from neighbouring countries and the international community. Nearly $2 million worth of assistance in cash and relief items has been provided already. “A major challenge now is to coordinate all the support coming in,” he said.

Relief assistance is focusing on water and sanitation, providing medical assessments, and ensuring adequate nutrition for the survivors.

Among the items UNICEF has supplied are prepacked relief kits for 1,400 evacuated families. The kits contain mosquito nets, blankets, mats, kitchen utensils, dinnerware, and water jugs.

UNICEF is working with local authorities to restart educational activities for school children from the affected communities in the St. Bernard area.

Threat of more landslides

Five other villages in the towns of Liloan and San Francisco appear to be threatened by slides, as residents are reporting wide cracks appearing on mountain slopes. Some 3,000 people have been evacuated from the threatened areas. 

In December 2003, landslides occurred in Liloan, San Francisco, and San Ricardo. Over 200 people were killed.

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 helping local authorities to monitor the weather situation in seven coastal communities along the eastern seaboard. “Already there’s been too much suffering,” said Dr. Alipui.

Sabine Dolan and Eric Mullerbeck contributed to this report from New York.




22 February 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on efforts to locate any survivors of the mudslide that hit the village of Guinsaugon in the Philippines’ Leyte province.

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