Miracle in the mud

Philippine rescuers were on Thursday frantically digging for more survivors after four people, including a toddler, were pulled alive from a building crushed by a landslide 11 days ago.

More than 120 people trapped under the two-storey building near the north-eastern town of Real had been given up for dead days ago, until faint voices were heard on Thursday from under the pile of mud, logs and debris.

“I thank the Lord for rescuing them,” said a sobbing woman, who identified herself as the aunt of the rescued three-year-old girl. “Our relatives had given up and left, but we felt we could get them alive.”

The four—Estella Mae Sor (three), Maria Luba (43) and teenagers Modesto Manoguid and Carl Bungat—were very weak, could not walk and were later airlifted to a nearby hospital.

Doctors at the site applied cotton doused with water to their mouths to prevent them going into shock. Rescuers said the four told them they survived on “prayers and water” that seeped through the rubble.

Volunteer miners and rescuers punctured the thick concrete roof of the building to get through, said Colonel Jaime Buenaflor, head of the army unit leading the rescue.

Other rescuers said faint voices could still be heard, indicating more possible survivors.
Unconfirmed radio reports said 20 people were still trapped but alive in the debris.

“Those that were pulled out alive can still talk. They are being treated by our medical teams. They are being readied for evacuation,” Buenaflor said. “I still can’t understand how they survived.”

The deeply religious south-east Asian country is reeling from two storms that have left more than 1 500 people dead or missing on the north-east coast, and President Gloria Arroyo hailed the dramatic rescue as a “miracle”.

“I’d like to thank God for that miracle and they [the rescuers] are continuing to dig deeper to see if they can rescue any more,” Arroyo said in Manila. She later boarded a helicopter to check on rescue efforts.

Television footage showed the survivors on stretchers. One of the teenage boys was naked from the waist up, his face grimy with mud as he silently sobbed. The toddler was wrapped in blankets and stared blankly at the camera.

The caretaker of the building in the village of Tignoan—which included a small Christian chapel—said about 120 people had crammed into the structure on November 29 at the height of a powerful tropical storm.

But floodwaters cascading down from the Sierra Madre mountains, uprooting trees and boulders, engulfed and crushed the building.

Rescuers using their bare hands and shovels had recovered more than 40 bodies before giving up the hunt for survivors.

Meanwhile, a contingent of United States marines was on Thursday helping to airlift relief supplies into Real, Infanta and General Nakar, the three towns worst hit by two storms last week that have left tens of thousands homeless.

Residents of the towns could be seen lining the mud-covered roads, waiting for aid to be distributed.

On a river that had just recently overflowed, women and children tried to wash their clothes free of mud in the shadow of a collapsed bridge.

About 100 US marines and sailors were preparing a staging point to transport aid at the former US airbase of Clark, 80km north of Manila. Another 100 will arrive later on Thursday, said US navy Captain Dennis Williams.

US C-130 cargo aircraft have been shuttling in supplies and personnel since early this week and Sea Knight helicopters have already arrived at Clark, said Williams.

Two US Navy Seahawk helicopters have been ferrying in supplies and medical personnel to the three storm-hit towns, and more aircraft and helicopters are expected to arrive in the country in the coming days.—Sapa-AFP

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