02/18/2006, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Race against time to save over 200 children in Leyte

They were "buried alive" in the area elementary school, struck yesterday by one of the worst landslides in decades. "They are still alive, you must work fast," said President Arroyo.

Guinsuagon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Rescue workers on Leyte Island are fighting against time to dig up mud covering the area's elementary school: 206 children and 40 teachers were buried alive beneath.  

The area where the school is situated was the worst-hit by yesterday's disastrous landslide. The death toll of the catastrophe is not yet known: some army personnel said 3,000 people were missing.

The nation's president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, called a meeting with local leaders this morning, telling them: "You need to work fast; there are people buried there who are still alive." This was proved by a message sent from the school head teacher's cell phone to a relative.

"We are continuing with our rescue operations," said Rosette Lerias, the governor of the province. "We haven't lost hope. We are happy that we now have many rescuers, about 320 in all."  But the people's help is powerless "against the mud which has struck us. In some areas, it's 30 metres deep. We cannot bring in heavy equipment and it continues to rain. Everything has to be done by hand."

Colonel Raul Farnacio, in charge of military rescue operations, said he was "pessimistic". He added: "From the mass of mud and stones, only 41 bodies have been extracted so far, and 57 people were rescued. There is no news of the other 1,800 people."

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