Relief work continues in wake of Philippine landslide
New Frontier reported on the Philippine landslide in the March 4, 2006 issue. Here is a recap and update, mainly provided by Chris Priest, public relations coordinator for the U.S. Southern Territory.
Around 10:00 a.m. on February 17, 2006, tragedy struck the village of Guinsaugon, St. Bernard in southern Leyte, an island in the mid-eastern part of the Philippines.
After heavy, unseasonable rainfall for 10 days, an entire mountainside collapsed and buried the village of 1,857 people and their 537 homes in over 30 meters deep of mud. At the heart of the village was an elementary school with over 250 schoolchildren together with their teachers.
A women’s celebration was also taking place in the Barangay (village) hall at the time of the landslide, with the participants likely trapped inside the hall that was covered with mud.
Rescue operations continued for a week before being abandoned, with fifty-seven people rescued and only 107 bodies recovered. Although the official rescue operation ceased, the task of unearthing the remaining villagers and rehabilitating what remains of the village continues. Survivors are in a state of shock and despair.
Government, non-government and faith-based organizations, including The Salvation Army, united in responding to the immediate basic physical and emotional needs of the survivors.
The Salvation Army Cantamuak corps officer, Captain Diosdado Cano, together with a retired officer, Major Bionone Laplana, arrived directly after the incident and coordinated with the Department of Social Services and Development and other area agencies and churches. A team from The Philippines Territorial Headquarters and the Visayas Island Division joined them. For more than a week the team visited the evacuation area and hospitals where survivors were housed, providing group and individual counseling. Many are still in shock, especially those who witnessed the actual mudslide, tried to save victims, heard the cries of pain, and suffered the loss of love ones. After counseling sessions the team members shared the word of God and introduced Jesus as the hope through all the tragedies. As a result most of them have received Christ as their own personal Savior.
Chief of the Staff Designate Commissioner Robin Dunster was leader of the Army’s work in the Philippines at the time of the disaster. In an article for New Frontier (4 March 2006), she wrote: “this is an area [Guinsaugon] where people’s hearts have long been hardened to the Gospel…. “As The Salvation Army, together with other Christian churches, renders practical, moral and spiritual support to grieving relatives and friends, they are a witness to the love of God. We pray that this testimony will bear much fruit.”
Aside from counseling, The Salvation Army provided medicines to the Anahawan General Hospital; doctors are thankful due to scarcity of supplies. Blankets, sleeping mats and bread were also distributed.
It is almost a month since the tragedy. Most of the government and non-government organizations including the teams of rescuers have left the area because there is no hope of finding survivors buried in the landslide. The relief operations have stopped and the government is concerned about meeting the daily basic needs of the survivors, since their source of income from the land is lost. Most agencies left the area with a promise to help in the long-term rehabilitation program. At present, Captain Cano is coordinating with local government officials in continuing relief and rehabilitation programs.
In addition to the homes and families that were buried in the mudslide, another 300 households have been evacuated because of further threat to their communities. The coast guard continues to transport emergency supplies on behalf of The Salvation Army, for distribution by the corps team.
A case study is being made by The Salvation Army of the young people who were absent from the affected area, at school. They are now orphaned and without means of support.
Monetary donations for disaster relief may be made online at www.salvationarmy.org.