Hundreds Still Missing in Philippine Landslide; Marines Aid Rescue Efforts

February 20, 2006

Rescue workers are continuing their efforts to find survivors of the landslide that buried the village of Guinsaugon, in the town of St. Bernard on the Philippine Island of Leyte last Friday, Feb. 17.

10 days of torrential rains have dropped more than 200 cms. (80 inches) of water on the island, triggering a number of mudslides. The deadly mud, over 9 meters (30 feet) deep in some places, covered most of the village. Initial reports indicated that thousands might have perished, but the figures have been subsequently revised. According to a report from the BBC, 72 people have been confirmed dead, and an estimated 1,000 residents are still believed to be missing out of a total population in Guinsaugon of 1,420.

U.S. marines from two warships, which were nearby when the mudslide occurred, are assisting local rescue workers. Other help has arrived from Taiwan and Malaysia, and the U.S., Australia and China have offered financial help.

Rescue efforts are concentrating on a buried school where about 200 pupils and 40 teachers are believed to be trapped. The marines and Taiwanese teams are using life-detecting sonar equipment in the search.

A number of environmental experts have cited extensive illegal logging in the region as a major contributing factor. The deforestation of the hills and mountains above the village apparently left it unprotected. The heavy rains then proceeded to loosen the oil and eventually set off the landslide. Similar slides have occurred elsewhere in the region.

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