Thu, Jan 05, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Up to 200 killed in Java landslide

SMASHED The pre-dawn disaster buried at least 102 homes and, although only 14 people were confirmed dead, the death toll is expected to jump dramatically

AGENCIES , JAKARTA AND SIJERUK, INDONESIA

A landslide triggered by heavy rains crashed into a village in Indonesia's Central Java province yesterday, killing at least 14 people and possibly leaving up to 200 more dead under muddy debris, an official said.

The disaster followed landslides in neighboring East Java province earlier this week that killed at least 77 people.

The pre-dawn landslide crashed into hundreds of houses in the mountainous village of Sijeruk, home to around 700 people. Many were probably praying in a mosque at the time of the landslide, police said, adding that the mosque was destroyed.

"We have found 14 bodies so far ... The number of buried homes stands at 102," local government spokesman Eko Budi Raharjo said at the scene.

"People are still in a panic. They screamed earlier today when there was another landslide, but it was not too big," he said.

It was unclear how many people had survived, he said.

At least 13 people were injured and have been taken to hospital.

As Raharjo spoke, rescue workers moved two excavators and two bulldozers into the village to start shifting debris in the search for more victims.

Thousands of onlookers from other areas crowded around the perimeter of the destroyed village, where mud up to 6m high encased the remains of many homes.

Police in the nearby town of Banjarnegara, 350km east of Jakarta, said about 500 of the 722 people in Sijeruk village had been reported alive after the disaster.

"It happened around dawn, when people usually go to the mosque to pray. We have reports the mosque was flattened, so there may be more casualties," officer Broto Suyatno said.

Floods and landslides are common in Indonesia, especially during the current wet season. Many landslides are caused by illegal logging or the clearing of farmland that strips away natural barriers.

Activists yesterday warned that such disasters will be repeated, unless the government reforests denuded areas.

Togu Manurung, from Forest Watch Indonesia, said he expects similar disasters to occur more frequently on Java, as about 30 percent coverage is required for ecosystems to function normally.

He said heavy rainfall on land that has been largely deforested meant that the local ecosystem lacked the capacity to regulate the water, particularly on a mountainous island like Java that is home to many volcanos.

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