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More than 70 feared dead in huge Indonesian landslide

Fifteen bodies have been found so far, and rescuers, digging with their bare hands, fear many more remain buried in mud


Buried houses following a landslide at the Dewata village in Pasir Jambu, West Java, on Wednesday. AFP

CIWIDEY, Indonesia
HOPES faded Wednesday for more than 60 people buried under a massive landslide that killed at least 15 in Indonesia, as rescuers used their bare hands to dig for survivors.

Stunned villagers stood by in silence as bodies were dug out of the sticky clay that crushed homes, offices and a processing plant at a tea plantation south of Jakarta on Tuesday.

Survivors said the earth crashed down with the sound of an explosion, giving plantation workers and their families almost no warning.

“We’ve found 15 bodies so far and estimate that there are up to 70 people still missing,” Disaster Management Agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono said.

Rescue efforts have been hampered by blocked roads in the rugged terrain, officials said.

About 1,000 rescuers including police and soldiers are searching for victims buried on the once-picturesque plantation near Ciwidey village, about 35 kilometres southwest of Bandung city.

“It’s difficult to get heavy machinery into the site. The soil from the landslide is very thick and sticky. We’ve pulled out bodies using our bare hands,” West Java police spokesman Dade Ahmad said.

“The landslide is very deep. At this point, the chance of pulling out victims alive is slim,” he added.

Witnesses said the mud seemed to have flowed down from a nearby hill in a massive “S” shape after heavy rains overnight Monday.

Plantation worker Rosmana, 35, said the earth came down with what sounded like an explosion.

“It happened suddenly. I saw soil mixed with water coming down very fast towards my village. I panicked and worried about my two sons,” she said.

“I rushed to my house and found that my four aunties and a little nephew were buried. My oldest son managed to survive because he ran with other residents to higher ground. My youngest was safe at school.”

Sniffer dogs had been brought in to look for bodies, Ahmad said.

“We’re still trying to bring in the heavy earth-moving equipment. It’s difficult to get to the area, which is on a steep slope,” he added.

Tea plantation worker Maryati said her son was buried in their house beneath the mud.

“It was around eight o’clock in the morning when I heard a very loud explosion. I rushed to check what had happened and saw a large mass of soil had buried the houses,” she told state-run Antara news agency.

“I panicked because my five-year-old son was in our house. I tried to find him but it’s impossible. If he can’t survive, I pray to God that I can find his body.”

Indonesian Vice President Boediono and several ministers are expected to visit the disaster area later Wednesday.

Landslides and flooding are common in Indonesia during the rainy season, which hits a peak from December to February.

Many are blamed on rampant illegal logging and unchecked development in water catchment areas.

Bandung district has recently been hit with some of the worst flooding in eight years, displacing thousands of people.

Twenty five miners were killed in a landslide on Sulawesi island in October, 2008. In July, 2007 more than 130 people were killed in floods and landslides on the same island. AFP

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