Six days after a wall of mud levelled the village of Guinsaugon on the island of Leyte, efforts to find any survivors in a school that vanished under 35 metres of mud continued to be frustrated on Wednesday.

Holes dug in the mud collapsed and continual heavy rain forced troops and volunteers to call off their efforts early.

 

No one has been pulled out of the mud alive since the first few hours after a mountainside partly collapsed on Friday.

 

The official death toll has reached 107, based on the number of bodies recovered, but officials fear the number of residents still missing means it could rise to more than 1000.

Text messages

 

Up to 300 children and teachers are thought to have been trapped in the school, where unconfirmed reports said survivors sent relatives mobile phone text messages. 

President Arroyo has called for
a survey of the area

But despite an intense search, no one has been able to find the school, uncertain whether it was still on its foundation or was swept away by the wall of earth, boulders and trees.

 

A Philippine mining engineer, Melchor Taclobao, said searchers on Tuesday had abandoned the spot where they were initially digging for the school after hitting ground about 20 metres down.

Rescue workers used thick blue rope from US marines to mark off a large area that they believe to be the perimeter of the property where the school was.

The site was determined using a satellite map, a topographical map and layout of property boundaries.

High-tech equipment detected some sounds emanating from underground late on Monday, but no survivors were found and engineers put the sounds down to mud settling.

With families wiped out, at least half of the bodies have been buried in mass graves.

But one victim received a full funeral on Wednesday.

Arroyo visit

Friends and family of Antonio Bulagsac carried his simple silver coffin to the St Bernard cemetery.

Despite their poverty, the family pooled together to buy a wreath.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the Philippine president, visited the headquarters of the relief operation on Wednesday, about one kilometer from the village.

"We were absolutely crushed by sorrow over what transpired. The loss of so many lives of men, women and children is too much to absorb"

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,
President,
The Philippines

She was briefed by from the provincial governor, shook hands with US marines and other rescue workers and met local residents.

During a stop in nearby Cebu, she said: "We were absolutely crushed by sorrow over what transpired. The loss of so many lives of men, women and children is too much to absorb."

 

Arroyo consoled police officer Larry Binondo, who lost his wife, two children and two housekeepers in the landslide.

She also asked for an aerial geological survey of the entire province in an effort to prevent future disasters.

During a briefing, National Disaster Coordination Council officials told Arroyo that Leyte will experience four more months of heavy rain.