Maid praying for a mudslide miracle for 30 relatives

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 February, 2006, 12:00am

Domestic helper Celestina Pie is praying for a miracle to save at least 30 of her relatives feared entombed in last week's mudslide in the Philippines.

'I am still hoping for a miracle from God. I pray that those who are buried deep in the ground are still alive,' said Ms Pie, as desperate rescue efforts were suspended yesterday at the buried village of Guinsaugon.

Ms Pie had 31 aunts, uncles and cousins living in the picturesque coconut farming town at the foot of Mount Canabag in southern Leyte that was wiped off the map on Friday along with most of its 2,000 inhabitants.

Ms Pie, 45, who has been working in Hong Kong since 2002, has been in constant communication with her father, younger brothers and two cousins who live one village away.

She first learned of the tragedy at about noon on Friday when a nephew sent her a text message urging her to call home.

On Wednesday, she learned that an aunt and uncle, in their 50s, escaped death because they were on their way to the main town of Saint Bernard when the mudslide struck. Their daughter, a schoolteacher, was among the teachers believed buried in the village's elementary school.

But Ms Pie was also told that one of her friends who lived in Saint Bernard might have been at the school. She was one of seven teachers who went to the village on Friday morning for a women's festival.

Ms Pie said the Philippines had seen many disasters and tragedies lately but last Friday's tugged at her heart because it affected so many of her relatives, former schoolmates and friends.

'I do not even watch the television news anymore because I cannot accept that so many of my relatives might have perished,' she said.

Ms Pie was told that about 300 youngsters and adults from Guinsaugon were not at the village because they were at school in town or in other places doing business. The survivors, many of them orphaned, are being housed in Saint Bernard's Catholic high school, run by Franciscan nuns.

Several nearby villages also had been evacuated for fear of further mudslides and villagers are also staying in town.

Ms Pie said she was told last night that rescue efforts were stopped early yesterday because of heavy rain.

'Even a military helicopter cannot land as its propellers would just make the mud sink further,' she said.