Leaving Guinsaugon as a massive cemetery, officials propose

The suggestion was mooted by the president of the Filipino Red Cross: it's too difficult and dangerous to recover bodies. More US troops have arrived in Leyte and President Arroyo has called for a map charting at-risk areas, which has not been made public yet.

Guinsaugon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Rescue workers in the Philippines have dug their way closer to the elementary school of Guinsaugon, a remote village buried under a landslide last week, but there are no signs of life.

A spokesman for US Marines taking part in the rescue operation, Captain Burrell Parmer, says no survivors have been found so far. "Our troops have found dead bodies," he said. "They dig with their bare hands and place them in body bags."

Captain Parmer's comments contradict an earlier report from a Philippine government official that US forces had brought out about 50 survivors from under metres of mud in the school. About 240 students and teachers were thought to be inside the school building when the landslide hit on Friday.

Some officials suggested leaving Guinsaugon as a massive cemetery because digging out bodies was too difficult and dangerous. Some unidentified bodies were buried in mass graves because nobody claimed them. "We will still search continuously, but we should be prepared that ... you're going to have a mass grave right there," said Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross. "How can you retrieve those who were buried so deep?"

The disaster, triggered by two weeks of heavy rain, destroyed Guinsaugon, a remote farming village of about 1,800 people on Leyte island. So far, 84 bodies have been recovered. Relatives have reported 1,371 people still missing.

The US military says it is committing up to 3,000 troops to help with the rescue operation in Guinsaugon. Brigadier-General Mastin Robeson says Washington plans to divert up to 3,000 of the 5,000 US soldiers and sailors taking part in annual war games in the southern Philippines. About 500 US soldiers have been in the village since Monday.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has ordered a government agency to speed up the mapping of geological hazards in the Philippines in the wake of the landslide. Mrs Arroyo says she has ordered the release of $US1.54 million in state funds to speed up the project already under way.

She says at least 1,500 towns or villages have been identified as under threat from landslides, floods or other natural disasters, but that the maps have not been reproduced in large numbers for the public.