Indonesia landslide leaves 15 dead; 20 still missing

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Rescuers search for victims at a village hit by a landslide in Sirnaresmi, West Java, Indonesia, Tuesday, Jan. 1. (AP Photo)

Jakarta, Indonesia (AP) — Rescuers recovered six more bodies buried under tons of mud from a landslide that crashed onto a hilly village on Indonesia’s main island of Java, bringing the death toll to 15, officials said Tuesday.

The landslide that plunged down surrounding hills just before sunset Monday buried 30 houses in Sirnaresmi village in West Java’s Sukabumi district. Sixty people who lost their homes were forced to move to a temporary shelter, said National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

Television video showed relatives wailing as they watched rescuers pull a mud-caked body from a devastated hamlet. It was placed in a blue bag and taken away for burial.

Authorities struggled to bring tractors and other heavy equipment over washed-out roads after torrential rains sent mud and rocks crashing onto the hilly hamlets. Hundreds of police, soldiers and residents dug through the debris with their bare hands, shovels and hoes as heavy rain hindered their efforts.

“Lack of equipment, bad weather and a blackout hampered our rescue efforts for those who are still missing and feared dead,” Nugroho said.

Made Oka Astawa, head of the operations division at the National Search and Rescue Agency, said the six bodies were found under 4 meters (13 feet) of mud with the help of two excavators that managed to reach the devastated area.

Astawa said rescuers also pulled out four injured people, including an infant who died in a hospital. Twenty villagers are still believed to be missing.

He said the search effort was halted late Tuesday due to darkness and heavy rains that made the landslide areas unstable. The operation is to be resumed early Wednesday.

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 plains close to rivers.

The landslide occurred during New Year’s Eve celebrations.

On Dec. 22, the Anak Krakatau volcano in the Sunda Strait erupted and partially collapsed into the sea, causing a tsunami that killed at least 437 people on Java and Sumatra islands. At least 16 people are still missing and more than 33,700 residents were displaced.