21 February 2006

Government of Philippines Welcomes Assistance following 17 February Landslide

NEW YORK, 20 February (OCHA) -- The Government of the Philippines has announced that it welcomes international assistance, although it has not issued a formal request for aid, in response to a landslide that hit the village of Guinsaugon in Southern Leyte Province on 17 February.

The Government has deployed 796 personnel to support to the rescue and relief operations.  The Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Health, the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Philippine Institute of Vulcanology, the Philippines National Red Cross Society and the International Federation of the Red Cross are all providing support to the operation.

Five of the six-member United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) Team have arrived in country, three of whom are currently en route to

St. Bernard to assist in on-site coordination at the request of the Government.  Other members have been deployed to assist the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) and the United Nations Resident Coordinator.

Given the significant national and international response, with more than 1,000 personnel supporting search and rescue operations, and more than 200 providing relief and emergency medical services, the Government has emphasized the need for effective coordination to maximize the effectiveness of the resources deployed.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has provided health kits and essential medicine for 10,000 persons.  The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has provided an emergency grant of $50,000 and UNDP has mobilized an additional $100,000 for immediate response.

The village was hit by a second landslide at approximately 10 p.m. local time the same day.  The second landslide resulted in the evacuation of 11 surrounding villages as a preventive measure.  The Philippine Geosciences Bureau estimates that the landslide is 4 metres deep and covers an area of approximately 3 square kilometres.

As of 8 a.m. this morning, local time, the Government of the Philippines reported 415 persons rescued, 81 fatalities and 1350 people still missing.  Recent media reports have indicated that the number of missing may be even lower, but this has yet to be confirmed by the Government.

A "no fly zone" has been declared around Guinsaugon, due to concerns that helicopter downwash could trigger additional landslides.  This has further complicated access to the site.  The landslides have also blocked tributaries of a major river, which could cause flooding in nearby areas.  Weather in the area is cloudy, but no rain was reported at the site today and rain is not anticipated in the coming days, contrary to previous weather forecasts.

The Government of the Philippines is prioritizing ongoing search and retrieval operations and emergency relief for the survivors and the injured, including those evacuated from neighbouring villages who are currently residing in seven evacuation centres.  The Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council in Southern Leyte has indicated a need for food, non-food items, kitchen utensils, bedding, medical supplies, shelter, search and rescue assets and personnel.

For further information, please call:  Stephanie Bunker, OCHA-New York, +1 917 367 5126, mobile +1 917 892 1679; Kristen Knutson, OCHA-New York, +1 917 367 9262; Elisabeth Byrs, OCHA-Geneva, +41 22 917 2653, mobile, +41 79 473 4570.

* *** *