IMAGE: LANDSLIDE VICTIM REMOVED
Wawan Irawan  /  AFP-Getty Images
Indonesian soldiers and volunteers wade through waters Wednesday as they remove a body following a landslide in Tawangmangu, on Java island.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/26/2007 12:51:27 PM ET 2007-12-26T17:51:27

Soldiers, police and volunteers dug for survivors of landslides that are thought to have killed at least 78 people Wednesday in western Indonesia, including dozens who were celebrating the cleanup of a mud-covered home, a rescue official said.

Authorities were trying to get heavy-lifting equipment to affected villages on the main island of Java, said search and rescue chief Eko Prayitno, but blocked roads were hampering the efforts.

Days of torrential rain triggered the landslides as well as floods that inundated thousands of houses elsewhere in the country.

Sixty-one people were buried by a landslide in Karanganyar district just as they were having a dinner to celebrate the successful cleanup of one mud-covered home, he said. Seventeen others were feared dead in nearby Wonogiri district, after it was hit with 12 hours of nonstop rain.

The landslides occurred on the third anniversary of the Asian tsunami, which killed 230,000 people in a dozen nations. Two-thirds of those deaths occurred on neighboring Sumatra island, more than 1,400 miles away. A tsunami warning drill on Java was unaffected by Wednesday’s disasters.

Seasonal rains and high tides in recent days have caused widespread flooding across Indonesia — the world’s fourth most-populous nation — where millions of people live in mountainous regions and near fertile flood plains close to rivers.

Floods were reported in numerous locations elsewhere on Java, as well as on Sumatra and Sulawesi islands. Thousands of homes were affected, witnesses and media reports said.

A provincial official said the landslides were the worst to hit the region in quarter of a century as thousands of people moved to shelters after their homes were buried or washed away.

Landslides are frequent in Indonesia, where tropical downpours can quickly soak hillsides and years of deforestation often means there is little vegetation to hold the soil.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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