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Death toll rises in Indonesia slides, floods

Landslides and floods triggered by heavy rain have left more than 120 people dead or missing on Indonesia's Java island, as rescuers struggled on Thursday to pull out bodies.
Indonesia Landslides
Rescuers search Thursday for victims at a village hit by landslides in Tawangmangu, on Indonesia's Java Island.AP
/ Source: Reuters

Landslides and floods triggered by heavy rain have left more than 120 people dead or missing on Indonesia's Java island, as rescuers struggled on Thursday to pull out bodies buried under thick mud.

Officials said thousands of people have been left homeless after their houses were submerged by floods or buried by landslides in villages near the Bengawan Solo River.

About 40 people were missing after floods swept away a bridge in Madiun district in East Java province on Wednesday, a local police officer said.

In neighboring Central Java province, about 1,000 rescuers, police and soldiers tried to unearth 26 people buried in mud from steep slopes in Tawangmangu, a hilly area that has been hardest hit by landslides on Java. Rescuers had to use manual equipment, spraying the mud with water to soften it.

"We are only left with basic tools, such as spades and ploughs, yet we face a 7-to 9-meter blanket of mud," local police chief Rikwanto told Reuters by telephone. Many Indonesians go by one name only.

Workers pulled out 12 more bodies on Thursday, bringing the confirmed death toll to 48, said Heru Pratomo, head of the disaster relief agency in Karang Anyar district, of which Tawangmangu is part.

Another body was found and 14 were still missing in two neighboring districts, rescue officials said.

A resident named Syaiful said his wife and a daughter were among those found dead in Tawangmangu.

"I don't know what to say," Syaiful said, trying to hold back tears.

Suwarno, a survivor of the landslide in Tawangmangu, said his younger brother survived the landslide after he arrived at his house in time to save him.

"I ran to my brother's and I saw him buried waist-deep. I pulled him out of the mud and rushed him to hospital," he told Reuters Television.

Metro TV showed victims' relatives wailing after they found out their loved ones were among those killed. One fainted.

Floods as high as six feet also struck Central Java's Ngawi district, leaving three people dead and trapping families on the roofs of their houses, Elshinta radio reported. Rescue teams were sending rubber boats to reach survivors.

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

Chalid Muhammad, director of Indonesia's leading environmental group Walhi, said the government had not done enough to prevent the disasters.

"For five consecutive years landslides and floods have occurred in Java, claiming many lives. The main trigger is ecological destruction caused by deforestation, forest conversions and chaotic spatial planning," Chalid told Reuters.

He said deforestation on Java island had reached a critical stage.

"There have been no adequate efforts by the government to protect the people from disasters. When the landslides happened officials were on holiday and there was no access of heavy equipment to the affected areas," he said.

An official said on Wednesday the main area affected by the landslides was heavily forested.

Thousands of villagers who lost their homes to floods or landslides have moved into temporary shelters in offices and schools and into tents set up by the rescue teams.

Pratomo of the local relief agency said aid had reached the victims since Wednesday.

"Food aid is not a problem," he said.