At least 12 dead in 2 landslides in West Java

Indonesian rescuers carry a body bag during the search for victims buried by landslides in Sumedang, West Java, on Jan 10, 2021.
Indonesian rescuers carry a body bag during the search for victims buried by landslides in Sumedang, West Java, on Jan 10, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA, INDONESIA (NYTIMES) - Two landslides set off by heavy rainfall and unstable soil killed at least 12 people on Java, Indonesia's most populous island, and left rescue workers searching for survivors, disaster officials said on Sunday (Jan 11).

Among those killed in the landslides in West Java province were the head of a local disaster relief agency and an Indonesian army captain who had gone to help rescue survivors from the first landslide on Saturday afternoon. They were caught in a second landslide that evening.

The landslides also destroyed a bridge and cut off several roads in the West Java village of Cihanjuang. Rescuers worked into the night but faced an urgent need for heavy machinery to help move earth and reach any possible survivors.

"The first landslide was triggered by high rainfall and unstable soil conditions," said Raditya Jati, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency. "Subsequent landslides occurred while officers were still evacuating victims at the first landslide area."

A woman whose family lives in the village, Dameria Sihombing, said that her father, mother, nephew and niece were at home in the village at the time of the landslide. All four remain missing, she said by phone from Jakarta, the Indonesian capital about 145km to the northwest.

The first mudslide buried the family's home, she said, and the second slide, which was larger than the first, buried it even deeper. Many bystanders were also in the path of the second slide.

"Many people came to see the rescue team and suddenly the second landslide hit," she said. "There were more victims from the second one because it was much bigger than the first landslide. My family is buried inside the house and so far they haven't been found."

Deadly landslides are common in Indonesia, where deforestation and illegal small-scale gold mining operations often contribute to unstable soil conditions.

Indonesia's president, Joko Widodo, had warned in October that the country could experience more flooding and landslides than usual because of the periodic weather pattern known as La Niña. The rainy season is expected to last until March.

A local disaster official said that by midday on Sunday, rescuers were still attempting to determine how many people were missing. Eighteen people were reported injured.