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Scant hope for Philippine quake missing
by Staff Writers
Guihulngan, Philippines (AFP) Feb 8, 2012

Thousands of soldiers in the quake-hit Philippines Tuesday scoured villages buried under landslides, but authorities said hopes of finding dozens of missing people alive were dim.

Two days after a 6.7 magnitude quake flattened homes, destroyed bridges and triggered deadly landslides in the central island of Negros, rescuers had yet to find anyone alive among at least 92 people reported missing.

"Rescue teams have so far not seen or heard any signs of life underneath," Ernesto Reyes, mayor of the city of Guihulngan on Negros island where 29 people from a small mountain community were believed buried by a landslide, told AFP.

"None of our missing have so far been retrieved."

At least 48 people were confirmed to have died in Negros, with another 92 missing, regional military commander Colonel Francisco Patrimonio said on Tuesday.

In Manila, the national government's disaster office said on Wednesday its death toll was 22, with 71 missing, but acknowledged it had not yet been able to verify reports from authorities in Negros.

Reyes said the mountain community in Guihulngan was buried under about 10 metres (30 feet) of debris, with rescue efforts painfully slow because people had only picks, shovels and their bare hands to claw through the dirt.

Roads and bridges to Guihulngan, a coastal city of about 100,000 flanked by mountains, were badly damaged in the quake, meaning earth movers and supplies for survivors could not be quickly deployed to the area, he said.

"Our immediate concern now is how to serve the living -- we don't have enough food, there is no electricity and water," Reyes said.

"We are appealing for help from everyone."

The other missing people were reported in the nearby farming town of La Libertad, where a cluster of hillside homes were also crushed by a landslide, according to Negros Oriental province governor Roel Degamo.

"We are in a state of shock, and all we can do now for those still missing is to pray," Degamo said.

He said soldiers and rescuers raced against time Tuesday to find a young woman who had sent a mobile phone text message to her relatives that she was pinned down, but alive.

The dramatic search, however, ended in tears hours later.

"She was found dead and still clutching her cell phone," Degamo told AFP, declining to give further details about the victim in deference to her grieving family.

Civil Defense Office chief Benito Ramos said five military battalions, or about 2,000 troops, had been deployed to the devastated zones and were helping local rescue units.

"We are racing against time, and hoping against hope that maybe, just maybe some of them might still be alive," he said.

However, he said the military had not yet been able to get heavy equipment into the landslide-devastated communities because of the damaged roads.

President Benigno Aquino was expected to fly into the disaster zone Wednesday to personally check on the search and rescue operations.

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US to send second ship to bolster Philippines
Washington (AFP) Feb 7, 2012 - The United States will soon give a second Coast Guard cutter to the Philippines as part of efforts to boost the ally's military amid tensions at sea with China, officials said Tuesday.

The United States last year transferred its Hamilton cutter to the Philippines, which made it the flagship of its notoriously dilapidated navy and recently sent it on a mission to the disputed Spratly islands.

Lawmakers will this week conclude formalities to send to the former US colony another cutter, the Dallas, Representative Ed Royce and senior Pentagon official Peter Lavoy told a congressional hearing.

"It should soon be on its way to Manila," said Royce, a Republican from southern California whose district has a significant Filipino American community.

"The US and the Philippines want peace and stability in this region, which is key to the global economy," Royce said as he chaired the hearing of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee.

The Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries have accused China of bellicose behavior over disputes in the South China Sea. Despite historical sensitivities about US troops, the Philippines has said it would welcome further rotations by US forces on its soil and more joint exercises.

Lavoy, the top civilian at the Pentagon handling East Asia, said that the United States was "considering a range of military capabilities" as it helps the Philippines move from "an inward focus on domestic threats to an outwardly focused military that needs to be reorganized to address external concerns."

But Lavoy was noncommittal when asked whether the United States would be willing to provide F-16 fighter jets to the Philippines, saying it was critical to look at affordability and other factors.

Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said that cooperation also depended on human rights. Congress has blocked $3 million due to concerns over extrajudicial killings by the Philippine military.

"Although the pace of killings has declined, trying and convicting perpetrators remains an ongoing challenge," Campbell told the hearing.

But Campbell praised Philippine President Benigno Aquino for addressing human rights and other US concerns, including human trafficking.


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Philippine rescuers search for quake survivors
Guihulngan, Philippines (AFP) Feb 7, 2012
Rescuers in the Philippines dug through rubble with their bare hands on Tuesday in a frantic search for survivors, a day after a powerful earthquake killed dozens of people. The 6.7-magnitude quake hit a narrow strait between the heavily populated islands of Negros and Cebu around lunchtime Monday, triggering devastating landslides, tearing down homes and destroying roads vital to relief eff ... read more

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