Soldiers pulled bodies from villages razed by floods and landslides in central Indonesia on Thursday, bringing the death toll from days of heavy rain to more than 200 people, officials said. Another 135 people were missing.
At least two roads were blocked by landslides, and water and mud reached almost 7 feet high in Sinjai, the hardest hit district of southern Sulawesi province, where rescuers scrambled to evacuate survivors.
The number of dead climbed to 201 and hopes of finding the scores of people still missing were quickly fading, said Dadang, an official at the island’s disaster relief coordination office who goes by one name.
“Rescuers say most of the missing people are likely to have been swept out to sea,” said Ode Parmodes, also of the relief office.
The flash floods and landslides were triggered by incessant rains since Monday, and the government has promised an investigation into claims that illegal logging may have been a contributory factor.
“What has happened in Sinjai should become a lesson to all of Indonesia: people must be alert if torrential rains pour over areas where forests have been depleted,” said Forestry Minister Malam Kaban.
Hundreds of people flocked to hospitals to look for missing relatives, witnesses said.
One man, Rohim, said a flood tore through his house early Tuesday, sweeping him out to sea. He said he survived for nine hours by hanging onto a piece of drift wood, but his wife and two sons had vanished.
“I pray for them, and hope rescuers can find them,” he said at Sinjai hospital, where he had been looking for their bodies in the morgue. “I will stay here until I can find them: dead or alive.”
Sulawesi is about 1,000 miles northeast of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.
Seasonal downpours cause dozens of landslides and flash floods each year in Indonesia, where millions of people live in mountainous regions and near fertile flood plains close to rivers. Some environmentalists and government officials blame rampant deforestation, which they contend loosens soils on mountainsides.