- The Washington Times - Friday, January 6, 2006

SIJERUK, Indonesia — Rescuers yesterday searched for as many as hundreds of victims buried under a massive landslide that crashed into a mountainous village in Indonesia’s Central Java province.

Under blue skies after days of rain, four excavators were clearing debris, and rescuers found several more mud-covered bodies, including a mother tightly hugging her child.

Surviving family members clustered near the partially destroyed village of Sijeruk wailed in grief over those pulled out or still missing and feared dead.

So far, rescuers have recovered 34 bodies from the debris after Wednesday’s pre-dawn disaster, local Metro television reported. Hundreds of rescuers from the military, police and aid groups have joined the search.

The Red Cross said the death toll could soar.

“There were more than 100 families living at the buried area, and if we say each family has three members, 300 could be buried if all of them were there,” said Irman Rachman, head of disaster management at the Indonesian Red Cross.

“Hopefully, some were out of the village when it happened.”

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

Local press said flooding and small landslides had damaged roads and bridges in other parts of densely populated Java island, where 130 million of Indonesia’s 220 million people live.

Wednesday’s landslide crashed into hundreds of houses in Sijeruk, home to about 700 people.

Mud up to 20 feet high encased the remains of many homes, although not all were hit by the debris. The landslide erupted from a thickly forested hill, indicating that excessive logging was not the cause of the disaster.

Rescuers said they were retrieving bodies after digging through piles of mud. Evacuation efforts have been hampered by rain and a lack of equipment.

“We have focused our search so far on the mosque, and it was located at the edge [of the village],” said Yusman Irianto, head of the social affairs department in the nearby town of Banjarnegara, about 220 miles east of Jakarta.

Authorities think many villagers were praying inside Sijeruk’s destroyed mosque at the time of the landslide.

Banjarnegara police have said about 500 Sijeruk residents were confirmed to have survived the disaster.

Floods and landslides are common in Indonesia, especially at this time of the year during the wet season. Many landslides are caused by illegal logging or the clearing of farmland that strips away natural barriers to such disasters.

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