Death toll rises to 39 in landslide on Indonesia's Java island

JEMBLUNG, Indonesia (AFP) - Indonesian rescuers dug through mud with their bare hands and shovels for a third day Monday in the hunt for scores of people still missing after a landslide engulfed a village, as the death toll rose to 39.

Sixty-nine people are still unaccounted for after heavy rain triggered the landslide that swallowed up houses in Jemblung village on Java island late Friday, with officials saying 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 that cascaded onto the village, which lies in a valley surrounded by hills, with a sound that witnesses said was 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 told AFP.

National disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said that 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.

"Rescuers retrieved more bodies from the mud, which took the death toll to 39 people," he told AFP, adding that 69 people remain missing.

Initial rescue efforts were hampered by persistent heavy downpours but the weather has cleared since Sunday.

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.