Landslide Overwhelms A Village in Indonesia

By Alan Sipress
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 5, 2006

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Jan. 4 -- A torrent of rock and mud engulfed a mountain village on Indonesia's main island of Java on Wednesday, killing 16 people and leaving about 200 others missing and feared dead.

Police and local officials said that a landslide smashed through Cijeruk village in Central Java province, smothering more than 100 homes under 20 feet of earth. The torrent largely buried the local mosque, where officials said many villagers were offering their dawn prayers. Other buildings were reduced to heaps of shattered wood and debris.

The landslide was the second in a week of heavy rains on the island, where 77 people were killed Sunday night in the coffee-growing area of Jember, about 540 miles east of Jakarta, the capital.

A fruit farmer in Cijeruk told reporters that dozens of his neighbors were killed, some of them screaming as they disappeared beneath thick clay-like mud.

"They were yelling 'God is great!' and then were slowly buried," the farmer, Saryono, 50, told the Associated Press. "I saw them buried alive." Saryono, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said he also was trapped in the mud and was rescued by other survivors.

Indonesian television footage showed residents shoveling frantically to uncover victims from the mud while others dug with their bare hands. By the time the effort was suspended in the late afternoon because of renewed downpours, rescue teams had managed to deploy only two bulldozers and two excavators.

Cijeruk, located 220 miles east of Jakarta, had a population of 700, but police said only about 500 had been accounted for.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was scheduled to visit the village on Thursday as well as tour the Jember district, where hillsides cleared of jungle made a landslide more likely.

Residents recounted hearing a thunderous roar as the nearby mountainside collapsed. Officials estimated that 2,500 homes and thousands of vehicles were damaged or destroyed.

Rescue teams and soldiers were still trying Wednesday to reach isolated hamlets near the village of Kemiri, in Jember district, but their efforts were hampered by the collapse of a main bridge, local officials reported. Several injured survivors were ferried to safety by helicopter.

Emergency teams forded swollen rivers in a bid to reach villagers, many of whom were marooned without food and shelter. At least two of the dead were rescue workers who had drowned, officials said.

Refugees from the East Java villages have been finding their way to makeshift shelters, where officials and volunteers from Muslim civic organizations have established emergency kitchens. Many people have sought refuge in mosques and schools on higher ground.

Floods and landslides are an annual occurrence in Indonesia, where the torrential rains of the wet season often overwhelm densely populated villages. Environmental groups have blamed widespread illegal logging for precipitating the disasters.

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