Relatives of more than 1,000 Philippines mudslide victims and survivors held a 30-minute memorial service Saturday, bearing flowers and candles.
After gathering in an army tent near the village of Guinsaugon, Leyte Island, mourners walked in a procession to a nearby riverbank, where they tossed flowers into the air and placed white candles on the ground.
About 1,000 people, the majority of the village’s population, remain missing and are now feared dead after the Feb. 17 mudslide covered the area in 100 feet of mud. Though initial estimations placed the number of dead at 1,800, later reports have lowered the figures considerably.
Official called off searches, last Friday night, after heavy rains raised fears of additional mudslides. Only 139 bodies were recovered for burial. Soft mud and continual rain had confounded initial searches for survivors. Rescuers were forced to dig through the mud with shovels or by hand as heavy equipment was restricted from operation for fear of disturbing the soil.
The government plans to turn the site into a memorial, but will continue looking for bodies in the next few weeks.
Provincial Gov. Rosette Lerias and other local officials paid their respects during the ceremony as Catholic priests scattered Holy Water on the ground. Lerias said that she could not resist crying whenever visiting the area, reported AP. Also present were U.S. Marines and sailors from the U.S.S. Essex and landing ship Harpers Ferry, dispatched to provide assistance alongside rescue teams from Taiwan and Malaysia.
The cause for the deadly mudslide has been blamed on torrential rain that soaked the mountains for days. Some sources have named deforestation as the cause for the disaster. The mudslide had swept the entire area in Guinsaugon, 420 miles southeast of Manila. Two weeks after the disaster, the area remains drenched in 27 inches of rain.
Christian groups including the United Methodist Committee on Relief, World Vision, Action by Churches Together, and The Salvation Army have continued efforts to provide relief and support to survivors.
Appeals for additional donations to fund long-term recovery efforts by aid groups continue to be made as of this week.