“It sounded like the mountain exploded, and the whole thing crumbled,” survivor Dario Libatan told Manila radio DZMM.
“I could not see any house standing anymore.”
The farming village of Guinsaugon on Leyte Island, 670km (420miles) southeast of Manila, was virtually wiped out, with only a few jumbles of corrugated steel sheeting left to show that the community of some 2500 people ever existed.
Two other villages also were affected, and about 3000 evacuees were at a municipal hall.
“We did not find injured people,” said Ricky Estela, a crewman on a helicopter that flew a politician to the scene. “Most of them are dead and beneath the mud.”
The mud was so deep – up to 10 meters (30ft) in some places – and unstable that rescue workers had difficulty approaching the school. Education officials said 200 students, six teachers and the principal were believed to have been there.
Appeal for aid
Rescuers said there was little hope
Meanwhile, the international Red Cross has said it is making available emergency funding after a landslide buried an entire village in the Philippines.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it had released 200,000 Swiss francs ($152,000) to provide assistance to the ravaged village of Guinsaugon in the south of the Philippine island of Leyte.
More staff and trained volunteers are being sent to the region, along with dog rescue teams, said the federation.
“The situation is very serious and the location of the village of Guinsaugon presents a major logistical challenge in getting help to the survivors and transporting injured people,” said Raoul Garganera, the head of the PNRCs disaster management division, in a federation statement.
A relief plane was on its way from the Philippine capital Manila carrying 1000 body bags, emergency trauma kits to help 1000 people, rubber boots, ropes, clothing, flashlights, and medicine, the federation said.
The affected was already disaster-prone, and is often hit by monsoons, floods and heavy rains, it added.
Death toll to go up
The international federation said it feared that the death toll would rise even higher because 90% of the area was affected by the landslide, which was caused by heavy rains over the past two weeks.
There appeared to be little hope for finding many survivors and only 53 were extricated from the brown morass before dark halted rescue efforts for the night, officials said.
“It was like the whole village was wiped out,” said Lt. Col. Restituto Padilla, the air force spokesman.
Aerial TV footage showed a wide swath of mud amid stretches of rice paddies at the foothills of the now-scarred mountain, where survivors blamed illegal logging for contributing to the disaster.
Rescue workers dug with shovels for signs of survivors, and put a child on a stretcher, with little more than the girl’s eyes showing through a covering of mud.
“Let us all pray for those who perished and were affected by this tragedy,” Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the Philippines president, said in a statement.
“Help is on the way,” she promised survivors. “You will soon be out of harm’s way.”
Gordon appealed for US troops, in the country for joint military exercises, to send helicopters to the disaster site.
US naval help
Volunteers from nearby provinces
The US Embassy said a naval vessel was en route to the disaster area and Philippine disaster officials were being consulted on coordinating chopper deployment.
Volunteers from nearby provinces were quickly being joined by groups of troops being ferried in by helicopter, with more en route by sea.
Army Capt. Edmund Abella said he and about 30 soldiers from his unit were soaking wet from wading through mud up to their waists. Flash floods also were inundating the area, and the rumble of a secondary landslide sent rescuers scurrying for safety.
“The people said the ground suddenly shook, and then a part of the mountain collapsed onto the village,” Abella told AP by cell phone.
He said the troops had just rescued a 43-year-old woman.
“She was crying and looking for her three nephews, but they were nowhere to be found,” Abella said.
Leyte Island is 670km(420miles)
While the official death toll was only 23, Rosette Lerias, southern Leyte province governor told radio DZBB that 500 houses in Guinsaugon were feared buried after non-stop rains for two weeks.
The elementary school was in session when the landslide struck between 9.00 and 10.00 AM (0100-0200 GMT), and about 100 people were visiting the village for a women’s group meeting.
“The ground has really been soaked because of the rain,” Lerias said of downpours blamed on the La Nina weather phenomenon. “The trees were sliding down upright with the mud.”
Rep. Roger Mercado, who represents Southern Leyte, said the mud covered coconut trees and damaged the national highway leading to the village.
Lerias said many residents had evacuated the area last week due to the threat of landslides or flooding, but started returning home during increasingly sunny days, with the rains limited to evening downpours.
In November 1991, about 6000 people were killed on Leyte in floods and landslides triggered by a tropical storm.