MANILA, Feb 18 (AFP): Rescuers dug in vain Saturday for more survivors after an estimated 2000 people were buried by a massive Philippine landslide, including some 200 schoolchildren trapped under the mud.
Desperate pleas were sent Friday night by text message from teachers and students sunk under the wiped-out village of Guinsaugon. But they have not been heard from since and only corpses were pulled out of the muck Saturday.
"They're not finding anyone alive anymore," Eulogio Dala, municipal assessor of the district which covers Guinsaugon, told AFP.
"We had 30 villages before, now we only have 29. One was removed from the map," Dala said.
The military said there was a "hairline chance" that people could still be rescued, but the air force suspended operations for the day by late afternoon due to bad weather.
Heavy earth-moving equipment could not be used because of the mud, officials said. Arc lamps were brought in to let rescue teams work around the clock.
A massive wall of mud slammed into the village in the south of Leyte island Friday morning, wiping out hundreds of homes and leaving hundreds if not thousands trapped.
In places the mud is thought to be 30 metres (100 feet) deep.
The scene is of utter devastation, with only crumpled tin roofing and the tops of some coconut palms visible above a sea of mud. The civil defence office in Manila said the landslide covered nine square kilometres (3.5 square miles).
Figures for the missing varied considerably, with two local officials estimating the number at up to 3,000. There were no up-to-date figures for the population of the village.
However, Adriano Fuego, director of civil defence operations in the area, told AFP that 2000 were missing.
Survivors had harrowing stories to tell.
The international Red Cross appealed for two million Swiss francs (1.52 million dollars) in funds. Australia pledged one million dollars (740,000 US) in immediate aid and the United States sent two military ships.
Thailand and Taiwan each pledged 100,000 dollars in aid.
Two C-130 aircraft carrying search and rescue teams and 26,000 pounds of medical supplies left Manila for Leyte's main city Tacloban early Saturday.
Meanwhile, two US warships, 17 helicopters and 1,000 Marines participating in joint exercises with Philippine troops have been diverted to the scene of a devastating landslide.
US Charge d'Affaires Paul Jones said the USS Essex and the USS Harper's Ferry were expected to reach Southern Leyte province at daybreak Sunday.
The two ships have the capability to transport 17 helicopters, 1,000 Marines, thousands of gallons of water-purification equipment, generators and blankets, he told a meeting on the disaster attended by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and various government officials.
Jones said the US government also has turned over US$100,000 (euro83,000) worth of disaster equipment to the Philippine Red Cross, while thousands of blankets, jugs of water and plastic sheeting were expected to be handed over Sunday.
The ships and nearly 6,000 US military personnel are here to take part in annual joint exercises called Balikatan starting Monday around the country. The USS Essex was on its way to Jolo, where al-Qaida-linked militants have a presence, when a landslide covered a farming village on Leyte island, killing up to 1,800 people.