Villagers buried aliveby landslides in Java

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The Independent Online

Villagers on Indonesia's main island of Java had just finished cleaning up after floods caused by days of torrential rain when a landslide struck. Sixty-one people were buried alive, in the worst incident of its kind in the area for a quarter of a century.

The rains caused flooding and a series of landslides in Central Java province yesterday that left up to 81 people dead. Worst hit was the district of Karang Anyar, where 36 bodies were recovered and another 30 remained buried under thick mud near the banks of the Bengawan Solo river.

Another person was found dead and at least 14 were missing in two nearby districts, Wonogiri and Sukoharjo, after landslides struck their homes following 12 hours of non-stop rain. Emergency services were having difficulty reaching the area because roads were cut off by flood waters and mud.

In Karang Anyar, villagers who had cleaned up the mud-covered house of a neighbour were holding a late-night dinner to celebrate their efforts. As they ate and laughed together, another landslide tumbled down. The local search and rescue chief, Eko Prayitno, said that at least 61 people were buried.

Landslides are frequent in Indonesia, where tropical downpours can quickly soak hillsides stripped of the vegetation that holds the soil in place by years of deforestation. But the head of the disaster co-rdination agency in Karang Anyar, an official named Heru, did not believe deforestation had contributed to the latest incidents. "The forest in the area is thick," he said.

Seasonal rains and high tides in recent days have caused widespread flooding across Indonesia, where millions of people live in mountainous regions and near fertile flood plains close to rivers. Floods struck numerous locations elsewhere in Java, as well as in Sumatra and Sulawesi, with thousands of homes affected.

In Central Java, thousands of people were moved to temporary shelters in buildings, or tents set up by emergency response teams, after their homes were buried or washed away. Hundreds of soldiers, police and volunteers were struggling either to get heavy-lifting equipment to affected villages through blocked roads or simply stymied by a lack of equipment altogether.

Julianto, a provincial government official, said: "It is difficult for any help to reach the area, so the local teams are left on their own." He added: "The landslides took us by surprise. This is the first time in 25 years anything of this scale occurred here in Central Java."

Indonesia's Metro TV showed footage of ruined houses in the province and villagers wading through neck-high, muddy-brown water, clutching their belongings above their heads.

One affected village is located under a hill, which collapsed on to houses early yesterday after rains lashed the area on Tuesday.

Despite the protestations of local officials, scientists are convinced that logging and the failure to reforest denuded land lie behind the landslides and flash floods that have afflicted Indonesia with increasing regularity in recent years. In July, 90 people were killed when floods and rains hit Sulawesi island.

In Central Java, officials fear the death toll could rise.

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