Under sea of mud 250 children lie entombed in their school

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The Independent Online

Some 250 children and their teachers last night lay entombed in their school, trapped underneath 30 feet of mud and rocks, as rescuers all but gave up hope of finding any more survivors in the mudslide that has now claimed the lives of 1,800 people.

Unconfirmed reports suggested that some pupils were still alive and had sent text messages for help from their mobile phones. Many mothers had also been at the school to celebrate Women's Day.

Amid further downpours and the stench of death, rescuers feared there was little chance of even recovering many more bodies in the farming village of Guinsaugon, which was engulfed by a torrent of mud and rock early on Friday.

A British man was reported to be among the dead. The National Disaster Co-ordinating Council in Manila said a Briton identified as Rebor White, 53, who lived in the area, was killed and his Filipina wife was missing. Earlier he was named as Trevor White. The British embassy said it could not confirm details until next of kin had been notified.

The remoteness of the disaster area, on the island of Leyte about 420 miles south-east of Manila, hampered efforts to bring in heavy equipment and relief supplies. Troops and firefighters, often working waist-deep in mud, recovered only 46 bodies and 57 survivors from the reddish soil, with the chances "very, very slim" of anyone else being found alive, said Colonel Raul Farnacio, in charge of the army's relief operations. "We have two generators. We will try to work round the clock but our men have to rest too."

Walking on the mud was an unsettling feeling, knowing that houses filled with entire families lay entombed below and that the muddy swamp could open up at any time and claim new victims. Some 750 rescue workers trod gingerly through the bog-like conditions yesterday, under orders not to dig too deep in places for fear of sparking a collapse.

Mounds of fresh debris occasionally cascaded down from a nearby mountain, remnants of Friday's landslide.

"It's hard because of the mud, and the rain is hard, and we hear rumblings in the ground," said Sergeant Danilo Cajigal. "We can see only a few roofs jutting out. Everything has been buried. We have shovels and we use our hands."

Then, a whistle cut through the eerily quiet landscape. The corpse of a young woman had been discovered by troops, who had felt the body knock against their legs as they waded through the sludge. Elsewhere, the bodies of a child and a woman were found close to each other and pulled out from knee-deep mud in a cluster of wrecked houses.