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Philippines mudslide speeds up village relocation plan

PHILIPPINES PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered geologists and local government officers to identify other landslideprone areas and possible relocation sites for residents, following the mudslide that devastated a village on 17 February.

As GE went to press more than 980 people were still missing and 107 bodies had been recovered in Guinsaugon Barangay (village) near Saint Bernard on the island of Leyte.

The landslide from nearby Mount Kan-abag covered the village in 10m of mud and rocks after more than 200mm of rain fell in 10 days.

The area is right next to the Philippine fault zone, underlain by intensely fractured and weathered volcanic rocks which make it susceptible to mass movement.

President Macapagal-Arroyo said the government would allocate Peso80M (£880M) to speed up a national geohazard mapping project being carried out by the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources' Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).

The mapping project began in the mid 1990s but work had slowed because of funding shortages.

MGB national coordinator on geohazard mapping, Arnulfo Cabantog, said immediate work would entail on-site assessment of potential relocation sites for all 11 identified landslide-prone barangays in Saint Bernard.

'Aside from coming up with the exact geological features of these potential relocation sites, equally important is that these sites should be accessible from many points to allow faster flow of residents, ' he explained. Eight relocation sites have already been identified.

An international rescue team, including US Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Joint Task Force Balikatan, are using heavy machinery to dig through the mud. Use of heavy equipment was avoided at the start of the rescue for fear of triggering more movement.

Marine engineers have built a gravel bridge across the river at the base of the disaster area to help the search and rescue effort move more quickly, explained Lance Corporal Wayland Benson.

The Philippines' location on the Pacific Ring of Fire means it is at high risk from natural hazards, with 22 active volcanoes in the region and regular earthquakes and typhoons. Last year the government said it planned to complete a nationwide campaign to promote measures to mitigate the impact of natural disasters.

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