Death toll in Philippines rises to 1,350

Searchers burrowing with shovels at the site of a school buried in a massive landslide have no indications that anyone survived the disaster, a Philippine military official said Monday.

"There is no sign of life so far," Lt.-Col. Raul Farnacio said. He said the school was buried in up to 35 metres of mud and that recovery teams had dug about halfway down to the building.

Early Monday, dozens of haggard U.S. marines and Philippine soldiers resumed digging in a huge sea of mud covering the farming village of Guinsaugon. Taiwanese experts with sound-detecting equipment and 60 Malaysians, including medics, soldiers and firefighters, joined the search for survivors.

In new international pledges, South Korea said after a cabinet meeting Monday that it would send $1 million US in aid for recovery efforts, and New Zealand planned to provide 200,000 New Zealand dollars ($133,000 US). Australia said it would send engineers to help assess the damage.

Canada, meanwhile, announced an initial aid pledge of $300,000 Cdn to support recovery and rehabilitation efforts in the affected area.

"We will revisit this contribution as needs in the affected area continue to be assessed," Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said in a statement late Sunday.

"We are dispatching an officer from the embassy in Manila to the area to evaluate the situation as circumstances on the ground permit."

The teams worked on clearing a road of boulders and digging around the school building where an estimated 250 to 300 students were in class when a mountain slope collapsed and enveloped the town Friday.

"We have not found anything at this point," said U.S. marine Lt. Ryan Rogers, commander of the U.S. contingent at the school site. The search began in heavy rain that had stopped by midday. Forecasts called for intermittent rain over the next 24 hours, followed by improving weather.

Philippine military officials had said they feared 1,800 people, virtually the entire population of Guinsaugon, died in the disaster. But on Monday, Gov. Rosette Lerias of Southern Leyte province said 72 people were confirmed dead and 928 were missing. National disaster officials in Manila said the number of missing was 1,350, including 246 children.

There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy in the numbers.

Official figures of how many survivors were pulled from the mud on Friday have also differed, with counts ranging from 20 to 57.

Hopes of finding more survivors seemed remote because the village was inundated by a dense wall of mud and rock, making it unlikely that many air pockets would form beneath the sodden surface, reports the AP.


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