Indonesian landslide death toll rises to 56, another 52 people still missing

Members of a search and rescue team remove the body of a victim of a landslide at the Jemblung village in Banjarnegara in central Java on Sunday. PHOTO: AFP
Members of a search and rescue team remove the body of a victim of a landslide at the Jemblung village in Banjarnegara in central Java on Sunday. PHOTO: AFP

JEMBLUNG, Indonesia (AFP) - Indonesian rescuers dug through mud with shovels and their bare hands for a third day on Monday in the hunt for dozens of people still missing after a landslide engulfed a village, as the death toll rose to 56.

Fifty-two people are still unaccounted for after heavy rain triggered the landslide that swallowed houses in Jemblung village on Java island late Friday. Officials say the chances of finding anyone alive are now slim.

More than 1,000 rescuers, including police and soldiers, have been digging through huge mounds of red mud and debris that cascaded onto the village, which lies in a valley surrounded by hills, with a sound like thunder.

"We hope and pray that we can rescue some of the missing but the chances are slim," local search and rescue chief Agus Haryono said.

National disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said late Monday 17 bodies, including those of four children, were retrieved Monday, taking the death toll to 56.

Bulldozers and excavators were still trying to clear a huge pile of fallen trees and earth blocking the main road to the site, in the hope of speeding up the rescue effort, he added.

Several people were seriously injured in the disaster and hundreds of others evacuated from the area.

Rescue efforts have been hampered by persistent heavy downpours.

President Joko Widodo visited the scene at the weekend and urged authorities to speed up rescue efforts.

Landslides triggered by heavy rains and floods are common in tropical Indonesia during the rainy season. The national disaster agency estimates around half the country's population of 250 million lives in areas prone to slippages.

The vast Indonesian archipelago is prone to natural disasters and is frequently hit by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.