Uit: Philippine Daily Inquirer
February 21, 2006
SAINT BERNARD -- In a matter of seconds, the homes and families of the central Philippine village of Guinsaugon were wiped out, buried under a mountain of soil and rock. Now survivors must come to grips with both a painful past and an uncertain future.
Around 2,000 people lived in Guinsaugon, near the town of Saint Bernard in the central island of Leyte, before a landslide triggered by two weeks of heavy rain wiped the village from the map on Friday. Eighty bodies have been found so far and around 1,400 people are missing amid fading hopes of finding any more survivors.
The civil defence office says 415 people were away from the village at the time of the tragedy. The survivors have been housed at the Saint Bernard Central High School while the government tries to find new homes for them.
Some 1,300 people from other nearby villages have been moved into separate shelters in Saint Bernard because of a threat of more landslides. Those centers are filled with laughing, screaming and crying kids, but the high school is eerily silent. More than 200 of Guinsaugon's children were in the elementary school when the landslide hit and were buried along with the rest of the village.
Now, only a handful of very small children can be seen among the survivors.
Maria Len Duhiling, 26, lost her parents, two sisters, three brothers and three nieces and nephews. She escaped only because she was consulting a doctor in another village about her pregnancy. Her sister and five-year-old child accompanied her that day, a decision that saved their lives. "Someone sent a text message that there was a landslide. I thought it was a minor incident and my family wasn't affected. And then I heard the entire mountainside had collapsed," she said. "We wept and wept. We had nowhere to go, nowhere to return to," she said.
Her husband, Rudy Duhiling, 28, a coconut harvester, was also outside the village, collecting copra on the mountainside. "I thought I was dead. I was just 100 meters [yards] away when the earth began moving. In seconds, the rolling rubble had hit my home. The coconut trees rushed down the mountainside," he said. "I yelled to the other copra harvesters and they ran out. I told them the earth had slid and that we must go, our homes have been destroyed. They said, 'Impossible." "We descended and found a desert," Duhiling said. While his wife and child survived, he lost his mother and 20 other relatives. "I have no idea what I will do now," he said. "He spends a lot of time just staring into space," his wife remarked.
Rosalie Siega, 15, was attending high school in the neighboring village of Tambis when the earth shook. Students rushed out and realized Guinsaugon had been destroyed. Her father survived because he was collecting hemp in the mountains but her mother and a sister died. "I spend a lot of time crying," Siega said, sitting in a chair as a classmate tried to comfort her.
Jesse Coquilla, 21, who lost his mother, his sister and cousins, has tried to come to terms with the loss. Coquilla said he had no illusions of finding his family alive, or even of recognizing the bodies. He and his father, a village councilor, only survived because they had gone into Saint Bernard to buy fertilizer for their farm. "When we came back, we saw there was nothing," he said. "We couldn't even eat that day. We couldn't sleep. We still can't completely relax." But Coquilla does not blame God for the disaster or the government for not evacuating the villagers earlier. "We have to accept what happened. No one is at fault," he said.
Social workers have been counseling the Guinsaugon evacuees to help them deal with their pain, offering them "stress debriefing." Emily Adona, a social worker, said no one had snapped so far and become hysterical or suicidal. The high school overlooks a small cemetery where some 30 Guinsaugon victims were speedily interred on Sunday due to decomposition. What happens to Guinsaugon now is still to be determined. A carpet of mud and rocks, up to 30 meters (100 feet) deep in a few places, covers a nine square kilometer (3.5 square mile) area.
Coquilla has a suggestion: "My father says just make it a cemetery and put up a giant cross."
First posted 10:44am (Mla time) Feb 21, 2006
By Agence France-Presse
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