Indonesia: Rescuers pull 32 bodies from mud

Indonesia's president Joko Widodo (in white shirt) visited the disaster area yesterday. Picture: Reuters
Indonesia's president Joko Widodo (in white shirt) visited the disaster area yesterday. Picture: Reuters
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RESCUERS pulled more bodies from the debris yesterday after heavy rain in central Indonesia loosened soil and collapsed a hill, setting off a landslide that killed at least 32 villagers and left 76 others missing under piles of mud.

About 2,000 rescuers, including soldiers, police and volunteers, were digging through the mud and the wreckage of crumpled homes, getting some relief from clear weather following days of heavy rain. Excavators, meanwhile, shoved aside earth and the remains of wrecked wooden homes.

Residents of Jemblung village in Central Java province’s Banjarnegara district said they heard a roaring sound followed by the raining down of red soil that buried more than 100 houses late on Friday. “The landslide looked like it was spinning down,” said one resident, Subroto, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

“I managed to rescue a pregnant woman, but could not save the other man.”

He said one side of the hill collapsed, then another. “In five minutes, there were three [major landslides] and they swept away everything,” Subroto said.

By late afternoon yesterday, 32 bodies had been pulled from the debris, while hopes faded that the 76 people still missing would be found alive, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for Indonesia’s Disaster Mitigation Agency.

Many roads and bridges were destroyed, hampering rescue efforts, Mr Nugroho said.

Indonesian president Joko Widodo arrived at the scene yesterday. He pledged to relocate the hundreds of people left homeless by the disaster, and gave an assurance that the government would help provide aid for those who were injured. Eleven injured villagers were hospitalised.

Many people in Jemblung village said they were aware that the earth on the 150-metre hill that flanked their remote farming village may have been unstable. After hearing a deep rumbling sound just after dusk on Friday, some fled to safer ground.

But others were either at home or at the local mosque when the mud, rocks and trees tumbled on to their village.

Wawan Wahyuni, a 20-year-old farmer, said he watched helplessly as his grandfather and dozens of his neighbours disappeared beneath mud more than 20 feet deep in some spots.

“I saw them buried alive,” Mr Wahyuni said. “They were yelling ‘Allah Akbar!’ [God is great!] before being slowly buried.”

Mr Wahyuni himself was buried up to his chest until survivors rescued him seven hours later. Banjarnegara is located on Indonesia’s most densely populated island of Java, about 285 miles east of Jakarta.

Seasonal rains and high tides in recent days have caused dozens of landslides and widespread flooding across much of Indonesia, a chain of 17,000 islands where millions of people live in mountainous areas or near fertile, flood-prone plains lying close to rivers.