GUINSAUGON, Philippines – It was another day of frustration Wednesday with no sign of survivors as rescue workers tried to find an elementary school buried by a landslide under 100 feet of mud. Heavy rain forced troops to call off work, and a two-ton drill brought in by U.S. Marines sat idle with its braces missing.
Up to 300 children and teachers were thought to have been trapped in the school when a mountainside collapsed Friday after two weeks of heavy rain, burying the farming village of Guinsaugon in a 100-acre blanket of mud. Hopes for a miracle have focused on the school largely because of unconfirmed reports that survivors there sent mobile phone text messages to relatives shortly after the landslide.
But no one has been found alive since just hours after the disaster.
The official death toll has reached 122 Thursday, based on the number of bodies recovered, but officials fear it could surpass 1,000. At least 10 bodies were recovered Wednesday, but none near the school site.
With entire families wiped out, at least half of the bodies have been buried in mass graves. But one victim received a full funeral Wednesday.
Friends and family of Antonio Bulagsac carried his simple silver coffin to the St. Bernard cemetery. Despite their poverty, the family pooled money to buy a wreath. An older relative sang during the brief ceremony before Bulagsac was laid to rest in a family plot.
Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo visited the headquarters of the relief operation on Wednesday, less than a mile from the village. She received a briefing from the provincial governor, shook hands with rescue workers and consoled a police officer who lost his wife and two children.
"We were absolutely crushed by sorrow over what transpired. The loss of so many lives of men, women and children is too much to absorb," Arroyo said in the nearby city of Cebu.
Imelda Marcos, wife of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, arrived separately and kissed Arroyo on the cheek before the president left.
The search for survivors was suspended Wednesday evening because rain made conditions too dangerous and holes that had been dug in the unstable mud were collapsing, officials said.
A drill brought in by U.S. Marines aiding the rescue effort went unused when the Americans could not find the poles needed to brace it. The drill is capable of digging 180 feet deep, and the school is believed to have been buried by up to 100 feet of mud and rock.
On Thursday, about 65 Marines in rubber boots and carrying picks and shovels were digging, and weather permitting, the American military planned to try again to use the two-ton drill.
Some searchers turned back because of the rains, which washed out a foot bridge and prevented use of a earthmover in the digging. Water flowed down a mountainside in one area, and there were signs of fresh landslides.
Despite an intense search, no one has been able to find the school, uncertain whether it was still on its foundation or was swept away by a wall of earth, trees and boulders.
A Philippine mining engineer, Melchor Taclobao, said searchers on Tuesday had abandoned the spot where they were initially digging after hitting ground about 65 feet down. No structure was found, he said, so they started digging at another spot about 100 yards away.
Rescue workers used thick blue rope to mark off a large area where they believed the school had been located. The site was determined using satellite and topographical maps.
High-tech gear detected some underground sounds late Monday, creating a buzz of excitement among troops, miners and volunteers whose hopes of finding life had all but vanished. But when no survivors were found, engineers attributed the sounds to mud settling.