Memorial Service Held for Philippine Mudslide Victims

A memorial service in the eastern Philippines was held on Saturday for the more than 1,000 victims of a massive mudslide one week earlier.

Grieving villagers carrying candles and flowers sang hymns and held hands in an army tent in Guinsaugon on Leyte island, news agencies on Saturday reported. After the 30-minute ceremony, villagers walked to a nearby riverbank, tossed flowers into the water and placed white candles in the ground.

Only 139 bodies have been recovered and nearly 1,000 villagers, most of the population of Guinsaugon, are missing and presumed dead after the Feb. 17 landslide covered the farming village in up to 100 feet of mud, according to the most recent report by the Associated Press.

Officials on Friday night declared an end to the search for survivors beneath tons of mud but said they would continue looking for bodies for a few weeks more before turning the area into a memorial site.

On Feb. 17, a rain-soaked mountainside that broke into a wall of mud swept away hundreds of houses and schools in Guinsaugon, 420 miles southeast of Manila, virtually wiping out the area, according to reports. Over the two weeks prior to the disaster, the farming village had been swamped with 27 inches of rain.

While officials initially estimated that up to 1,800 had died from the devastating landslide that swallowed Guinsaugon, later reports showed the number to be much less.

Among those attending Saturday’s memorial service were U.S. Marines that the U.S. military dispatched soon after the landslide to join rescuers from Taiwan and Malaysia for the massive search and recovery operation for survivors.

Also present was provincial Gov. Rosette Lerias and other local officials and survivors who crossed a river nearby the memorial service to bless the disaster site. Priests sprinkled holy water on the ground. Lerias wept, saying she could not hold back the tears whenever she visits the area, AP reported.

Christian and relief groups, meanwhile, continued coordinating with partners in the areas to provide immediate relief and support for long term recovery. Groups mobilizing in the area include Action by Churches Together (ACT), Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, the Salvation Army, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and World Vision, among others.