Filipino victims buried in mass grave
Updated: 2006-02-20 06:46
Standing in a light drizzle, the handful of mourners didn't know any of the
30 people laid side by side in a mass grave Sunday as workers began burying the
few victims recovered since a mammoth mudslide wiped out this farming village.
Anyone who could have identified the bodies was likely under a carpet of muck
up to 30 feet deep, and hopes all but evaporated that more survivors would be
A Roman Catholic priest sprinkles holy water
during a mass buria for lands slide victims Sunday, Feb. 19, 2006 in St.
Bernard town in Leyte island, southeast of Manila.
Only about two dozen battered, dazed people have been rescued from the debris
left by Friday's disaster, which left some 1,800 people missing and presumed
Weary search teams found more than a dozen bodies Sunday, raising the number
of confirmed deaths to 72. With no one left to claim the dead and bodies quickly
starting to decompose in the tropical heat, officials ordered them buried in
At a cemetery five miles from Guinsaugon, a Roman Catholic priest sprinkled
holy water on 30 bodies, some wrapped in bags, others in cheap wooden coffins,
then said a prayer through a mask worn to filter out the stench.
Volunteers lowered the bodies to men who placed them side by side at the
bottom of the grave.
The only witnesses were local health officials, the provincial governor, some
of her staff and a few nearby residents. Some evacuees from the landslide
watched from the window of a nearby Catholic school.
Twenty more bodies were to be buried there Monday.
In the capital, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said Sunday that "all the
efforts of our government continue and will not stop while there is hope to find
survivors." But those hopes faded each hour as no more survivors were found for
a second straight day.
A woman who escaped the destruction said the first inkling of the disaster
was a mild shaking of the ground, followed by a loud boom and a roar that
sounded like many airplanes.
"I looked up to the mountain and I saw the ground and boulders rushing down,"
said Alicia Miravalles.
She said she ran across her family's rice field ahead of the wall of mud and
boulders. "I thought I was dead. If the landslide did not stop, I would really
be dead now."
Her husband, Mario, said their nearly 4-acre rice farm was left a mound of
rocks and mud.
"Our farm is gone. We have no more home," he said. "We can only rely now on
the government's help."
Florencio Libaton, an injured villager, told of being caught by the soupy
mush while trying to flee with his wife. He said he was rolled and tossed among
boulders and tree trunks that were swept down the adjacent mountainside.
"I said, 'God, is this how we are going to die?'" Libaton recalled at
Anahawan District Hospital, where he and other injured were taken.
Rescuers found him pinned under a tree trunk and mud. "I yelled out, 'Help!
Help! Then they pulled me out after digging with their hands," he said.
There was no sign of Libaton's wife, Porfiria. He feared he also lost his
children ¡ª a son and two daughters ¡ª when the mud buried the village's
elementary school, along with 250 to 300 children and teachers.
Two shiploads of U.S. Marines arrived off Leyte island Sunday to help,
diverted from military exercises elsewhere in the Philippines. A unit of 32
started digging at the school, and a total of 200 Marines had come ashore by
sunset. Hundreds more were expected Monday.
Communist rebels active elsewhere on Leyte warned the U.S. troops not to
stray into insurgent zones, but said they would not attack unless provoked. The
New People's Army rebels have been waging a rebellion since the late 1960s.
The hunt for survivors focused on the school after unconfirmed reports
circulated that some of those inside had sent text messages to loved ones after
the mountainside collapsed following two weeks of heavy rains.
Officials had said 57 survivors were pulled from the mud Friday, but on
Sunday lowered the number to 20 without explanation.
Spirits rose briefly at the school site Sunday when Malaysian soldiers with
sound-detecting gear reported movement below the mud. But with nothing else to
indicate life, they had to admit the noise could have been settling mud.
A Taiwanese team of 32 rescue workers with heat-sensing equipment arrived to
aid the desperate search for survivors.
Philippine Lt. Col. Raul Farnacio said teams using search dogs also were
digging around the village hall, where about 300 people were at a women's
conference when the mudslide hit.
In Geneva, the International Red Cross appealed for $1.5 million to buy
materials for temporary shelters and health and cooking items.
Meanwhile, a landslide killed five people on another Philippines island
hundreds of miles away, but it was not immediately clear what caused it.
Maj. Gamal Hayudini of the military's Southern Command said the slide
engulfed two houses in Zamboanga del Sur province's Bayog town, 470 miles south
of Manila. He said a woman was pulled out alive with a broken leg.
In November 1991, about 6,000 people were killed on Leyte in floods and
landslides triggered by a tropical storm. In December 2003, 133 people died in
floods and mudslides.