The governor of southern Leyte province, Rosette Lerias, said 500 houses in Guinsaugon village were feared buried after two weeks of solid rain. A primary school was open when the landslide struck, at around 9am.
"There are no signs of life: no rooftops, no nothing. The ground has really been soaked because of the rain," Ms Lerias said of the downpours, which have been blamed on the weather phenomenon known as La Niña. "The trees were sliding down upright with the mud.“
Villagers have said the slide was caused by excessive heavy rain and illegal logging, which removed the ground cover.
The mud was up to 10 metres deep in some places and so unstable that rescue workers had difficulty approaching the school. Education officials said 250 students and teachers were believed to have been inside the building.
Richard Gordon, head of the Philippine Red Cross, said the entire village appeared to have been buried in unstable mud. He appealed for US troops, currently in the country for a series of joint military exercises, to send heavy-lift helicopters to the landslide scene. A C-130 Philippine military transport plane was to fly to Leyte later today carrying search equipment and a team of sniffer dogs.
Anthony Golez, deputy administrator of the office of civil defence, said two rescue helicopters and two navy ships had been sent to the remote area, where about 200 rescue workers, volunteers from nearby provinces among them, were trying to dig out survivors.
"We want to get a clearer picture of what happened and then also mobilise the army there," Mr Golez said.
"Let us all pray for those who perished and were affected by this tragedy," the president, Gloria Arroyo, said. "Help is on the way."
In November 1991, about 6,000 people were killed on Leyte in floods and landslides triggered by a tropical storm. Last weekend, seven road construction workers died in a landslide after falling into a ravine 46 metres deep in the mountain town of Sogod on the island.