JEMBLUNG, Indonesia (AFP) – Rescuers searching for more than 70 people missing after a landslide in Indonesia deployed bulldozers and excavators to clear roads strewn with debris as the death toll from the disaster rose to 32 Sunday.
Torrential downpours triggered the landslide hitting Jemblung village in central Java late Friday, National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.
“The rescue team has found 32 bodies… and is still searching for 76 people buried in the landslide,” he said in a text message.
Hundreds of rescuers were digging through the mud with shovels and their bare hands in a desperate hunt for any survivors.
“I am very worried,” a sobbing Sutinem, whose 12 family members including her children were buried in the landslide, told AFP.
The 45-year-old, who was not in the village when the landslide hit, said that so far only the body of her mother had been found.
“I was shocked to see that my village was flattened to the ground… I pray that the government will find them quickly,” said Sutinem, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name.
Military official Edi Rahmatullah told reporters: “We are trying our best to look (for) those still buried. It’s a big challenge because we are still using manual tools and the affected area is very muddy.”
Provincial search and rescue agency chief Agus Haryono said rescue efforts have been slow because the ground was still unstable.
“The affected area is a large valley surrounded by hills. The soil is loose and muddy so we have to be very careful when digging to prevent more landslides,” he said, adding that sniffer dogs were being deployed to detect bodies.
“The chances of finding anyone alive at this point is slim, but who knows? We just hope and pray that we can find survivors,” he told AFP.
Authorities were using heavy equipment to clear a three-metre high pile of fallen trees and rubble on the main road leading to the site of the disaster, Nugroho said.
More than 2,000 rescuers, including police, soldiers and volunteers were involved in the search operations.
Fifteen people were injured, including 11 seriously, and more than 800 people were evacuated to temporary shelters, Nugroho said.
“Many of (the survivors) were injured from being hit by debris and are being treated in hospital,” he said, adding that survivors were in need of food, blankets, and medicines.
President Joko Widodo, who arrived in Central Java’s provincial district of Banjarnegara on Sunday, stressed the need to speed up rescue efforts.
“Earlier I visited the landslide site in Banjarnegara to look at the situation there. Although logistical support has been provided, the evacuation process must be strengthened and hastened,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
“I urge Indonesians to be vigilant as there are hundreds of locations around us which are prone to landslides,” he added.
Landslides triggered by heavy rains and floods are common in tropical Indonesia during the rainy season.
The national disaster agency estimates around half the country’s population of 250 million lives in areas prone to landslides.