People of Baranggay Guinsaugon ran as far as their feet could bring them in the morning of 17 February 2006 as tons of mud and rock cascaded down from Mt. Canabag. Very few luckily survived the mudslide that buried the entire village. "I still could not believe that they are gone. The houses are gone. They have been wiped out" narrated Christopher Lipato, a survivor of the tragedy.
Among those buried alive were 300 school children who were having classes at the Guinsaugon Elementary school and about 80 women/mothers who were attending a Women's Day Celebration in the school at the time the tragedy struck at 10 in the morning.
Rescue operations have proven to be difficult as the mud is deep and unstable. Rescue operations are suspended at nightfall as electrical supply in the area is totally bogged down and rain continues to pour, making it too difficult for the rescue teams to work. More so, there are very few heavy equipment available to help with the rescue operations. After a week of rescue operations, more than 1500 people are still missing, and 90 people are declared dead. However, it is glad to note that assistance and solidarity are coming in from neighboring countries. The Taiwanese have sent a rescue operation team and provided heat-sensing equipment to aid in the search for survivors. Malaysians also have brought in special cameras that can detect signs of life. Other countries that sent rescue teams include the US and Spain.
The mudslide was triggered by more than 2 weeks of non-stop rains brought by the La Nina phenomenon. It is the latest calamity to hit Southern Leyte. In 2003, a major landslide hit the 3 towns of Panaon Island and killed 105 people. In November 1991, about 6,000 people were killed in Ormoc, Leyte brought about by floods and landslides triggered by a tropical storm.
Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales said the landslide could have been prevented or its effects lessened, had the government and other sectors concerned acted on the problem of the forests' denudation. "The real reason for this terrible tragedy is that forests have been badly denuded and no serious replanting has been done. It is time for the powers that be to address strongly these issues. Otherwise, incidents such as what happened in St Bernard will be replayed again," said Archbishop Rosales.
Red Constantino of Greenpeace Southeast Asia added that, "The tragedy is caused by decades-long over logging." Logging Companies have started to cut down trees in Leyte as early as 1920. "The tragedy in Ormoc fifteen years ago and the recent Quezon Province disaster should have provided us with valuable lessons. Likewise, we should have listened to the cries of victims who had died in similar disasters to push us to effect changes and undertake measures that will prevent the loss of so many lives. But why are these things still happening? Who is to be blamed?" grieved United Church of Christ in the Philippines Pastor Minerva Cabas and Promotion of Church Peoples Response Chairman in Eastern Visayas. As we lay to rest those whose lives were taken by the landslide, may we learn from this tragedy and act together to protect our remaining forest cover while there's still time.