Philippine Mudslide Death Toll Estimated at 1,800 as Relief Groups Mobilize

Officials on Saturday estimated that up to 1,800 have died from the devastating landslide that swallowed a farming village in eastern Philippines on Friday as rescue workers continued searching for survivors with little hope of finding more.

Some "1,800 are feared dead," said Colonel Raul Farnacio, as search efforts in Guinsaugon, on the southern part of Leyte island, resumed Saturday in a drenching rain and high winds.

Farnacio, who is in charge of the army's relief operations, said the chances of anyone else being found alive were "very, very slim," according to Reuters.

On Friday, 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 farming village, according to reports. Over the last two weeks, Guinsaugon has been swamped with 27 inches of rain.

"It sounded like the mountain exploded, and the whole thing crumbled," survivor Dario Libatan told a Manila radio station, according to the Associated Press. "I could not see any house standing anymore."

"Our village is gone, everything was buried in mud," Eugene Pilo, a survivor who lost his family, told local media on Friday. "All the people are gone."

A helicopter pilot estimated that half the mountain had collapsed Friday morning.

As Philippine relief workers and soldiers continued searching for the more than 1,800 people missing, the U.S. military dispatched the USS Harpers Ferry and the USS Essex to the area, along with 1,000 Marines. The United States is also sending money requested by the Philippine government for search and rescue, said White House spokesman Trent Duffy, according to AP. He did not say, however, how much would be sent.

Prayers and plans, meanwhile, are being made by Christian groups that are coordinating with partners in the areas to provide immediate relief and support for long term recovery.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of the village of Guinsaugon on the Leyte island in this time of tragedy and grief,” said the Rev. R. Randy Day, General Secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, in a report by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). “We think especially of the families of the children trapped in the school covered in the mudslide.”

UMCOR, which serves as the humanitarian agency of the United Methodist Church, anticipates working with partners in the area including the Manila, Davao, and Baguio Episcopal areas of the United Methodist Church in the Philippines to provide immediate relief and support for long term recovery. It noted in its report on Friday that rescue operations are difficult due to the deep and unstable mud and continuing rains.

Despite such obstacles, Day noted in the UMCOR report that “The Philippines is part of our United Methodist global family of nations, and we are mobilizing to offer tangible signs of compassion and care.”

Since 1940, UMCOR's mission – providing relief in disaster areas, aiding refugees and confronting the challenge of world hunger and poverty – has helped to “heal the hurts of humanity” in nearly 100 countries.

Meanwhile, the Caritas Internationalis network, which was monitoring the disaster Friday morning, is also mobilizing on the ground to help in the relief effort and to funnel international aid to the local people.

“Our prayers are with the people of Leyte island and the Philippines as the scope of this tragedy continues to unfold,” said Duncan MacLaren, Secretary General of confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development, and social service organizations

“We also wish to assure NASSA-Caritas Philippines of our solidarity and support in responding to the tragedy,” he added in a released statement, “especially the victims.”

According to the latest report from the Associated Press, only 57 survivors have been found — none so far Saturday — out of a population of 1,857. At least 24 bodies have been pulled from the mud, and a child who was rescued died overnight from head injuries.

On Saturday, eleven other villages in the area near Guinsaugon were evacuated out of fear of further landslides.