GUINSAUGON, Philippines (AP) -Standing in a light drizzle, the handful of mourners didn’t know any of the 30 people laid side by side in a mass grave yesterday as workers began burying the few victims recovered since a mudslide wiped out this farming village.
Anyone who could have identified the bodies was likely under a carpet of muck up to 30 feet deep, and hopes all but evaporated that more survivors would be found.
Only about two dozen battered, dazed people have been rescued from the debris left by Friday’s disaster, which left some 1,800 people missing and presumed dead.
Weary search teams found more than a dozen bodies yesterday, and today the number of confirmed deaths rose to 74. With no one left to claim the dead and bodies quickly starting to decompose in the tropical heat, officials ordered them buried in mass graves.
At a cemetery five miles from Guinsaugon, a Roman Catholic priest sprinkled holy water on 30 bodies, some wrapped in bags, others in cheap wooden coffins, then said a prayer through a mask worn to filter out the stench.
Volunteers lowered the bodies to men who placed them side by side at the bottom of the grave.
The only witnesses were local health officials, the provincial governor, some of her staff and a few nearby residents. Some evacuees from the landslide watched from the window of a nearby Catholic school.
Twenty more bodies were to be buried there today.
In the capital, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said yesterday that “all the efforts of our government continue and will not stop while there is hope to find survivors.” But those hopes faded each hour – no survivors have been found since Friday.
Yesterday, dozens of haggard U.S. Marines and Philippine soldiers resumed digging in the sea of mud covering the village.
A woman who escaped the destruction said the first inkling of the disaster was a mild shaking of the ground, followed by a loud boom and a roar that sounded like many airplanes.
“I looked up to the mountain and I saw the ground and boulders rushing down,” Alicia Miravalles said yesterday.
She said she ran across her family’s rice field ahead of the wall of mud and boulders. “I thought I was dead. If the landslide did not stop, I would really be dead now.”