Search for Landslide Survivors Called Off

Rescue teams abandoned the search for survivors of a landslide that buried a farming village, and now will focus on helping people left homeless by the disaster, the provincial governor said Friday.

"We have collectively decided to stop the search and rescue phase of the operation," said Gov. Rosette Lerias of Southern Leyte province.

"We have decided to move on to recovery and rehabilitation of survivors because our greater responsibility ... is to rebuild the lives of those who have been devastated by this disaster," she said.

The official death toll in the village of Guinsaugon is 132, but more than 1,000 people are believed dead, buried beneath tons of mud by the Feb. 17 landslide.

Lerias said the decision to call off the search for survivors came after heavy rains caused the nearby river to rise. Wet conditions repeatedly have hampered the searchers, who include Philippine soldiers, U.S. Marines, and Malaysian and Taiwanese teams.

"Nature was working against us," Lerias said. "It is with a sense of disappointment that they were not able to find survivors but also with a sense of satisfaction that they have done their very best."

She said villagers staying at temporary shelters accepted the decision to call off the search when told about it by officials.

The Philippine army said earlier Friday that a roof spotted in the mudslide-stricken village was not from a school that was buried with more than 240 students and teachers inside. Earlier, officials reported that they believed it was the roof of the school.

"According to our rescuers, it is not the school roof. It is the roofing of a house," Maj. Gen. Bonifacio Ramos said.

Intermittent rains disrupted the search Friday, forcing workers to abandon some sites considered too dangerous because of a risk of further landslides.

Three more bodies were retrieved Friday. Also found in the mud were pictures, a wallet with an ID, pillows and blankets. No one has been found alive since the first hours after the avalanche.