JEMBLUNG, Indonesia (AFP) – Indonesian rescuers dug through mud with shovels and their bare hands for a third day Monday in the hunt for dozens of people still missing after a landslide engulfed a village, as the death toll rose to 51.
Fifty-seven people are still unaccounted for after heavy rain triggered the landslide that swallowed up houses in Jemblung village on Java Island late Friday. Officials say the chances of finding anyone alive are now slim.
More than 1,000 rescuers, including police and soldiers, have been digging through huge mounds of red mud that cascaded onto the village, which lies in a valley surrounded by hills, with a sound like thunder.
“We hope and pray that we can rescue some of the missing but the chances are slim,” local search and rescue chief Agus Haryono told AFP.
National disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told reporters that as of Monday afternoon, rescuers had found 51 bodies and were still struggling to find the remaining 57 missing.
“We are expecting to retrieve more bodies from the mud by the end of the day,” he said.
Bulldozers and excavators were still trying to clear a huge pile of fallen trees and earth blocking the main road to the site, in the hope of speeding up the rescue effort, he added.
Several people were seriously injured in the disaster and hundreds of others evacuated from the area.
Initial rescue efforts were hampered by persistent heavy downpours but the weather has cleared since Sunday.
President Joko Widodo visited the scene at the weekend and urged authorities to speed up rescue efforts.
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 slippages.
The vast Indonesian archipelago is prone to natural disasters and is frequently hit by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.