GUINSAUGON, Philippines – Police officer Loreto Binondo is searching for a gold ring. He rushes to each body pulled from the mud and checks for the band he recently gave his wife, Ann, on their 20th anniversary.
“When I find it, I find her, and I can say goodbye,” said a weary Binondo. “I’ll keep doing this until the recovery operations stop. I have no home, no one to come home to.”
On Sunday, for the second consecutive day, rescue crews were unable to locate any survivors beneath the millions of tons of mud that covered this remote village of about 1,800 people in a massive mudslide Friday.
Only about two dozen people were rescued Friday. Sunday night, 74 people were confirmed dead.
Today, dozens of haggard U.S. Marines and Philippine soldiers resumed digging in the sea of mud covering the village.
A woman who escaped the destruction said the first inkling of the disaster was a mild shaking of the ground, followed by a loud boom and a roar that sounded like many airplanes.
“I looked up to the mountain and I saw the ground and boulders rushing down,” Alicia Miravalles said Sunday.
She said she ran across her family’s rice field ahead of the wall of mud and boulders. “I thought I was dead. If the landslide did not stop, I would really be dead now.”
Her husband, Mario, said their nearly 4-acre rice farm was left a mound of rocks and mud.
Florencio Libaton, an injured villager, told of being caught by the soupy mush while trying to flee with his wife. He said he was rolled and tossed among boulders and tree trunks that were swept down the adjacent mountainside.
“I said, ‘God, is this how we are going to die?’” Libaton recalled.
Rescuers found him pinned under a tree trunk and mud. “I yelled out, ‘Help! Help! Then they pulled me out after digging with their hands,” he said.
There was no sign of Libaton’s wife, Porfiria. He feared he also lost his children – a son and two daughters – when the mud buried the village’s elementary school, along with 250 to 300 children and teachers.
Two shiploads of U.S. Marines arrived off Leyte island Sunday to help, diverted from military exercises elsewhere in the Philippines. More were expected today.
Communist rebels active elsewhere on Leyte warned the U.S. troops not to stray into insurgent zones, but said they would not attack unless provoked. The New People’s Army rebels have been waging a rebellion since the late 1960s.