Section title text:  Archived News.

The Landslide of Barangay Guinsaugon
in St. Bernard, Southern Leyte, Philippines

Photo: Landslide of Barangay Guinsaugon.World-wide media showed to us all the Guinsaugon tragedy of Friday February 17, 2006, where we saw a vast expanse of mud which had slid down and covered a whole village with its surrounding rice fields and farms. I’m sure you can imagine what it was like before – a beautiful valley with a cluster of buildings in the midst of lush green newly planted rice and bordered by high mountains. There was a brand new three storey school building, and on that day visitors were also benefiting from this facility as a Women’s Convention was being hosted there.

Suddenly, in a few minutes, life changed dramatically as with a loud noise the mud rushed down and covered the whole place sweeping away anything in its path. On that day about fifty people managed to escape because they were on the periphery of the area and were able to run, and the first rescuers found two other people, but the little girl later died in hospital. One of our priests’ sister had arrived there an hour or so before and she too is among the presumed dead. Soon many experts from different nations rushed to help, but with all their skills and availability of dogs and equipment, they could not rescue even one person, because the conditions were so treacherous.

Photo: recue attempts.Rescuers were sucked in to the mud up to their waists – like quick sand, and sixteen Taiwanese miners had to be rescued by helicopters. We saw a picture in the newspaper of a marine with mud up to his armpits being pulled to safety by holding on to a shovel held by a companion.

Finally two weeks after, on Friday March 3, a ceremony was held to bless the land and declare it a sanctuary. On that day the survivors and relatives were allowed to cross the river and go closer to the place, and because there had been no rain for a few days it was possible for them to walk on the hardened mud.

Photo: FCJ sisters offer support.But it was a harrowing sight for us as onlookers to watch these people step gently into the wide expanse of water to cross to where almost 1,000 of their loved ones lay buried. Many of those who crossed were orphaned children and youths who had been attending high school in a different barangay. 

The ceremony began with Mass offered by the Bishop of Maasin Diocese and prayers offered by other Christian denominations and Muslims. All the rescuers were thanked whether they were from the Philippines or abroad.  Many of the latter had already returned to Malaysia, Taiwan, Turkey, and Spain, but they were represented by US marines and an Indonesian Army medical team who were still offering their services for the following weeks. The Red Cross and the Philippine army had been the first to respond to the crisis and they received special commendation for their efforts to rescue their countrymen in very dangerous conditions.

A very moving moment in the ceremony was when posthumous awards were presented for the teachers and the barangay workers of Guinsaugon. Then two helicopters flew over the site with two clergymen who blessed the land with holy water, and flowers were dropped.

Because we live only two hours away, our FCJ community of Srs. Margaret Sheehan, Van-van Reposar and Judith Routier were able to respond quickly by taking four car loads of immediate relief items of food and water, toiletries, clothes, and sleeping mats and money for medical needs.  We were able to do this because of funds sent from our Province headquarters and from Genazzano FCJ College in Melbourne and also in the knowledge of further funds on the way from Jersey, where Judith’s brother had told the local newspaper and people had responded to his appeal.

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Nuestra pequeña Sociedad tiene como fin
     glorificar el corazón de Jesús
           por todos los medios a su alcance…     (Marie Madeleine)