GUINSAUGON, Philippines – Emergency workers have found the roof of what they believe to be an elementry school that was buried by a massive landslide, a provincial governor in the Philippines said Thursday. Aerial photographs showed the roof far from what was believed to be its original site and rescue workers will undertake a risky mission to reach it.
Rescue workers, who were forced off the disaster zone by heavy rains Thursday, were to try to reach the roof Friday morning after a former resident is brought in to confirm that it came from the school, provincial Gov. Rosette Lerias told a news conference.
Earlier, a group of rescuers started sinking in the mud and had to radio for help while trying to extricate a body from a landslide that entombed a Philippine village — one of several complications that forced the suspension of the search Thursday.
Rescue efforts lasted only a few hours before they were halted amid concerns that heavy rains could spark a new landslide and add to the death toll from Friday's disaster. The official body count stood at 122 and was expected to rise to more than 1,000.
Most of the population of Guinsaugon was feared buried alive when a rain-soaked mountain collapsed. With no survivors found since the first hours after the landslide, there was increasing talk of calling off rescue efforts.
U.S. Marines dispatched CH-46 helicopters to rescue the seven Taiwanese disaster experts, who were trying to unearth a body with a rope under heavy rain when they got stuck, said Marines spokesman Capt. Burrel Parmer.
"They got stuck in the mud, then they radioed they need help, they can't get out, they're sinking in the mud," Parmer said.
"The choppers started sinking in the mud, so they had to work fast," Parmer said. "The Taiwanese refused to leave without the body and were dragging it with them."
Six of the rescue workers and the body were loaded onto the helicopters, which returned later to pick up the last member of the team with a rope.
Weary troops and volunteers trudged out or were airlifted by helicopter from the unstable 100-acre mud field covering the village on Leyte island.
A group of 33 firefighters from nearby Cebu island, who have been digging every day, said they likely would head home Friday.
Hillsides over the area where an elementary school is believed to be buried could cave in any time, Lt. Col. Raul Farnacio said.
Earlier Thursday, searchers struggled to locate the school beneath tons of mud, still hoping to find survivors against the odds. Several hundred children were believed to be in the building when the landslide struck.
But searchers have been unable to find the building, uncertain whether it was still on its foundation or was swept away by the wall of earth, boulders and trees.
Rain hampered rescue teams with search dogs and sound detectors as they combed other parts of the swamp enveloping Guinsaugon.
About 65 Marines in rubber boots and carrying picks and shovels were at the site, and the American military had planned to use a two-ton drill in the afternoon to assist in the excavation. The heavy rain wiped out the plan.
The downpour also washed out a foot bridge. Water flowed down a mountainside in one area, and there were signs of fresh landslides.
Troops and volunteers had also called off work Wednesday night, when the holes they had dug kept collapsing.
Rescuer crews have marked off the area believed to be the school's location with thick blue rope. The site was determined using a satellite map, a topographical map and layout of property boundaries.
High-tech gear detected some underground sounds late Monday, creating excitement among troops, miners and volunteers. But when no survivors were found, engineers put the sounds down to mud settling.