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2/20/06-Guinsaugon, Philippines

Philippine Mudslide: Possible "Signs Of Life" Detected

 Sounds described by an official as "signs of life" have been detected by rescuers using high-tech equipment at the site of a Philippine school buried by last week's mudslide.

Rosette Lerias, governor of Southern Leyte province, said Monday that sound-detection gear and seismic sensors brought in by U.S. and Malaysian forces had picked up sounds of scratching and rhythmic tapping.

Lights powered by generators were set up to let rescue teams work through the night, The Associated Press reported.

Lerias said prospects of finding survivors improved from a scant "1 percent" chance when rescuers picked up "a faint, rhythmic tapping" at 5 p.m.

Two hours later "we received news that there was increased positive signs of life," AP quoted Lerias as telling reporters. "To me, that's more than enough reason to smile and be happy. The adrenaline is high as far as people are concerned."

Earlier, officials said it was unclear whether the noises were made by survivors or settling earth.

"We know there's something down there," U.S. Marine Lt. Richard Neikirk told AP. "The farther down we went, the signals grew stronger."

A Malaysian team using sound-detection equipment also detected noises.

"We have a sound," AP quoted Sahar Yunos of the Malaysia Disaster and Rescue Team as saying. "Knocking, something like that."

A sniffer dog stopped three times at one spot away from where rescue workers were digging, AP reported.

At one point Monday, hopes were raised and then dashed that 50 survivors had been pulled from the school.

"We have yet to recover any survivor," said Capt. Burrell Parmer, a spokesman for U.S. Marines taking part in the rescue operation.

Parmer contradicted an earlier report from a Philippine government official who told ABS-CBN television that U.S. forces had pulled about 50 people from the school.

"Our troops have found dead bodies," Reuters quoted Parmer as saying. "They dig with their bare hands and place them in body bags."

There was no immediate explanation for how the report of survivors had spread.

Workers were digging at two sites -- one believed to be the original location of the school, the other 200 yards down the hill, where the mudslide could have carried the building.

More than 240 children and seven teachers were beginning their lessons at the elementary school on Friday when the 800 meter (2,400 foot) Mount Kanabag turned into a wall of mud that wiped out Guinsaugon, a village of 1,800 people on the southern Philippine island of Leyte.

Hopes of finding survivors at the school had been raised by unconfirmed reports that some of those inside had sent text messages to loved ones.

A police officer told officials he watched helplessly as the school, which held his wife and four children, was entombed "in seconds."

So far, about 100 bodies have been found, the Philippine disaster relief agency PDRT said Sunday. The death toll is expected to reach nearly 1,000.

Officials have a list of at least 1,037 names of people who are missing, according to Philippine National Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon.

At least 35 people were injured in the disaster, Gordon said. No survivors have been found since Friday.

CNN's Hugh Riminton said rescue efforts were becoming increasingly organized and international, with U.S. Marines joining Taiwanese and Malaysian rescue teams who are fanning out across the vast disaster site.

Philippine mine workers also have joined the recovery effort, which was being hampered by heavy rains.

Search teams were armed with hand-drawn maps and shovels but were having trouble finding out where houses once stood.

Heavy rains, deep mud and the threat of a typhoon further dampened hopes any survivors would be found in the agricultural village whose main fare was coconut and rice.

'Like quicksand'

The mud is so deep it is impossible to use heavy equipment such as tractors and bulldozers.

"It is like quicksand, and it's a very active landslide, it's still moving," said Gordon.

Weakened by two weeks of steady rains, the mountain disintegrated and buried nearly 100 acres (40 hectares) of land in mud 100 feet (30 meters) deep in some areas.

Only three of the village's 300 houses were not covered by the mud.

Further complicating relief efforts, Gordon said the village was so remote it takes five to six hours to get there from the nearest airport in Leyte's provincial capital, Tacloban. Tacloban is nearly 650 kilometers (400 miles) south of the Philippine capital Manila.

Authorities had warned residents about the possibility of landslides after weather forecasters announced in early February that the "La Nina" effect would dump above-average rainfall in South Asia.

The area has been deluged with more than 50 centimeters (20 inches) of rain this month, about four times the maximum of any previous month.

Although some villagers had fled, many had returned to participate in a village celebration, Gordon said.

Global efforts

The U.N. Organization for Humanitarian Affairs pledged an immediate $50,000 in aid, the Red Cross' Board of Governors offered $2 million, the Danish Red Cross pledged $200,000 and an Australian aid group offered about $740,000.

The U.S. Agency for International Development authorized the U.S. Embassy in Manila "to disburse approximately $50,000 in disaster assistance," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday.

The U.S. military has ships and several hundred troops in the region as part of a long-planned exercise. The Philippines has asked the United States for water, meals, boots, blankets, medicine and earth-moving equipment.

CNN's Hugh Riminton contributed to this report.

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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