World

Indonesia landslide death toll rises

Rescuers pulled more bodies from the debris Sunday after heavy rain in central Indonesia loosened soil and collapsed a hill, setting off a landslide that killed at least 32 villagers and left 76 others missing under piles of mud.

One side of hill collapsed, then another, after torrential rains

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (in white) toured the devastated village of Sampang on Sunday. About 3,000 rescuers were helping in the search for survivors, up from 400 on Saturday. (Idhad Zakaria/Antara Foto/Reuters)

Rescuers pulled more bodies from the debris Sunday after heavy rain in central Indonesia loosened soil and collapsed a hill, setting off a landslide that killed at least 32 villagers and left 76 others missing under piles of mud.

About 2,000 rescuers, including soldiers, police and volunteers, were digging through the mud and the wreckage of crumpled homes, getting some relief from clear weather following days of heavy rain. Excavators, meanwhile, shoved aside earth and the remains of decimated wooden homes.

Residents of Jemblung village in Central Java province's Banjarnegara district said they heard a roaring sound followed by the raining down of red soil that buried more than 100 houses late Friday.

"The landslide looked like it was spinning down," said one resident, Subroto, who like many Indonesians uses only one name. "I managed to rescue a pregnant woman, but could not save the other man."

He said one side of the hill collapsed, then another. "In five minutes, there were three (major landslides) and they swept away everything," Subroto said.

By late afternoon Sunday, 32 bodies had been pulled from the debris, while hopes faded that the 76 people still missing would be found alive, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman for Indonesia's Disaster Mitigation Agency.

Many roads and bridges were destroyed, hampering rescue efforts, Nugroho said.

Indonesian president tours village

Indonesian President Joko Widodo arrived at the scene Sunday. He pledged to relocate the hundreds of people left homeless by the disaster, and assured that the government would help provide aid for those who were injured. Eleven injured villagers were hospitalized.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo inspects the site of the landslide that swept away a village in Jemblung, Central Java. (A.K. Hendratmo/Associated Press)

Many people in Jemblung village said they were aware that the earth on the 150-metre hill that flanked their remote farming village may not hold. After hearing a deep rumbling sound just after dusk Friday, some fled to safer ground.

But others were either at home or at the local mosque when the mud, rocks and trees tumbled onto their village.

Wawan Wahyuni, a 20-year-old farmer, said he watched helplessly as his grandfather and dozens of his neighbours disappeared beneath mud more than six metres deep in some spots.

"I saw them buried alive," Wahyuni said. "They were yelling 'Allah Akbar! (God is great!) before being slowly buried."

Wahyuni himself was buried up to his chest until survivors rescued him seven hours later.

Banjarnegara is located on Indonesia's most densely populated island of Java, about 460 kilometres east of Jakarta.

Seasonal rains and high tides in recent days have caused dozens of landslides and widespread flooding across much of Indonesia, a chain of 17,000 islands where millions of people live in mountainous areas or near fertile, flood-prone plains close to rivers.

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