Fri, Jan 06, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Hopes of finding survivors in Java landslide fading

AFP , SIJERUK, INDONESIA

Rescuers searched through thick mud yesterday for up to 200 people buried in a landslide that flattened a village in Indonesia's Central Java Province. However, hopes of finding survivors were fading.

Officials said 30 dead bodies have been recovered but that about 140 bodies could remain buried following Wednesday's landslide, triggered by heavy rains.

Among the bodies exhumed by rescuers yesterday was that of a woman holding her child.

"The possibility of finding survivors is almost nil," Mulyanto, a soldier assisting in the rescue efforts in the village of Sijeruk, said.

Banjarnegara district deputy chief Hadi Supeno told reporters at the scene that an estimated 142 people were buried when the landslide struck.

More than 400 rescuers used backhoes and handtools to dig into the deep wall of mud as residents from neighboring hamlets watched and waited for news of their relatives.

"I'm here to find my nephew. I want to know if he is alive or dead. If he is dead I will bury him in my place," said Atin, 30, who lives in a neighboring village.

A torrent of mud slammed into dozens of homes in Sijeruk, 370km east of Jakarta, in the second disaster to hit Java island this week caused by days of heavy rains and, according to activists, deforestation.

Village chief Basirun bin Sameja said there were 655 inhabitants in Sijeruk, according to a 2004 census.

So far, 177 people have been accounted for, but the number of people who had left the village since 2004 or were away was unknown.

Search coordinator Arif Sudaryanto estimated that about 160 people were still buried under the mud.

Relatives of the victims reacted with disbelief and tears.

"I took care of them since they were one day old. How can suddenly all of them be whisked away out of my hands?" said Suwari, whose three grandchildren were buried by the landslide.

The landslide followed flash floods which devastated villages in neighboring East Java Province.

Police said yesterday that the death toll from the floods had risen to 71.

Australia yesterday pledged A$200,000 (US$150,000) in aid for the survivors of both disasters.

The money will be channelled through the Red Cross to charter helicopters to evacuate the injured and drop emergency aid into hard-to-reach areas.

Emergency goods such as medicines, food, tents and hygiene kits will also be distributed, the government announced.

Environmentalists blamed both disasters on massive logging as well as land conversion for farming on Java, one of the world's most densely populated islands, and called on the government to take action.

Deputy district chief Supeno agreed.

"One of the causes of the disaster is deforestation carried by thieves, but we don't know who they are," he said.

Supeno said 180 households in the landslide-hit village would be given 35 million rupiah (US$3,500) each if they were willing to relocate.

Flooding and landslides are not unusual during Indonesia's rainy season.

More than 140 Indonesians were killed in February last year when a garbage slide buried more than 60 houses in a village southwest of Jakarta after days of heavy rains.

In 2003, more than 200 lives were claimed when flash floods tore through Bahorok, a popular riverside resort in North Sumatra.

Officials denied deforestation was the cause of that tragedy.

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