MANILA, Philippines (AP) – A rain-soaked mountainside disintegrated in an unstoppable wall of mud Friday, burying hundreds of houses and an elementary school in the eastern Philippines. Red Cross officials estimated 200 people were dead and 1,500 others missing.
“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, 670 kilometers (420 miles) southeast of Manila, was virtually wiped out, with only a few jumbles of corrugated steel sheeting left to show that the community of some 2,500 people ever existed.
Two other villages also were affected, and about 3,000 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 (30 feet) 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.
Sen. Richard Gordon, head of the Philippine Red Cross, issued the casualty estimates and made an international appeal for aid. The provincial governor asked for people to dig by hand, saying the mud was too soft for heavy equipment.
There appeared to be little hope for finding many survivors, and only about three dozen 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 air force spokesman Lt. Col. Restituto Padilla.