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Philippine tribe fears for family after landslide

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GUINSAUGON, Philippines, Feb 24 (Reuters) The Mamanua tribe knew two months before a devastating landslide destroyed a community in the central Philippines that something bad was going to happen.

While out gathering rattan, a palm plant similar to bamboo, the men noticed cracks on the ground of a ridge adjoining Katmon, the mountain that crashed onto the village of Guinsaugon on Friday leaving more than 1,000 people entombed.

''The cracks are a sign that there will be a landslide. What else can you expect?'' tribesman Ronnie Luzada, 24, told Reuters.

Sammy Lantaaw, the leader of the curly haired mountain dwellers, said they felt an earthquake the night before Katmon collapsed: ''I felt the earth shake. The plates and water containers fell from the table.'' Scared, those tribespeople that could afford the bus fare to the nearest town, fled. But around two-thirds of their 112-strong village were left behind.

''We are so worried about them,'' Nita Exclamado, 33, a mother of six, said as she sat on a piece of cardboard at the bus terminal in St Bernard, the town where many evacuees are being housed while they wait, in desperation, for a miracle for their loved ones.

No one has been brought out alive since Friday, when two weeks of heavy rain triggered the mudslide over Guinsaugon, a farming village about 675 km southeast of Manila.

MORE LANDSLIDES Rescue workers, including US marines dispatched from annual military exercises, were unable to resume digging at the site of a packed school yesterday because driving rain and days of digging in the soft mud had raised the risk of further landslides.

Colonel Raul Farnacio, in charge of the Philippine army's rescue operations, said that searches were continuing elsewhere.

Earlier, US marines had to helicopter seven Taiwanese rescue workers to safety after they got stuck in the mud, which is 30 metres deep in some places and covers a 9 square kilometre area.

So far, 122 bodies have been pulled out and around 1,000 people remain missing.

Hopes of a miraculous recovery were raised on Monday when search teams heard rhythmic noise near the supposed site of the school.

But no sound has been picked up since.

Officials have started exhuming bodies that were hurriedly buried in a mass grave last week without any identification.

Investigators are recording finger-prints, dental structures and any distinguishing marks, assigning each corpse a code and then reburying them in individual graves so that relatives will be able to find their kin.

Some officials have said privately there is no hope of digging anyone out alive.

Around 400 people who escaped the disaster, along with around 1,600 people evacuated from neighbouring villages, are sheltering in packed parish churches and schools.

The Philippines is usually hit by about 20 typhoons each year, but environmental groups such as Greenpeace blame the government for turning a blind eye to illegal logging or mining, which makes the ground unstable.

Locals were evacuated a week before Friday's disaster struck because of the heavy rains but many came back when there was a brief break in the downpour.

Reuters PDS VP0425

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