Indonesia rescuers use bare hands to search for those missing in landslide; at least 12 dead

A rescue team searches for survivors and remove bodies after a landslide at Jemblung village in Banjarnegara, Central Java province on Dec 13, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A rescue team searches for survivors and remove bodies after a landslide at Jemblung village in Banjarnegara, Central Java province on Dec 13, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (Reuters/AFP) - A landslide destroyed a village in Indonesia, killing at least 12 people, an official said on Saturday, as rescuers used their bare hands to search through the rain and mud for missing people.

Hundreds have been evacuated from around Jemblung in Banjarnegara, central Java, about 450km from the capital, Jakarta, where media pictures showed a flood of mud and water cascading down a wooded mountainside. The landslide hit on Friday night.

Mr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, said 11 people had been killed and 379 people from the surrounding areas had been taken to temporary shelters. "Jemblung village was the most affected," he said in a statement. "Rescuers are still trying to find more victims. The challenge is that the evacuation route is also damaged by the landslide."

TV footage showed bystanders watching the emergency effort while rescuers passed an orange body bag by hand through the muddy area. "We found 12 bodies at the moment, and we are searching for 96 others," an officer at the emergency centre at the scene of the disaster told AFP, asking not to be identified.

The rescue team, which included police, military and local volunteers, were using their bare hands to search for people and clear the area but further rain was making the search difficult. "There was a roaring sound like thunder," Mr Imam, who lives in a neighbouring village, told television. "Then I saw trees were flying and then the landslides. People here also panicked and fled."

Mr Nugroho said it was unclear whether those missing were buried under the landslide or had taken refuge. "Conditions on the ground are pretty tough and we need heavy machines to clear the road that has been covered by the landslide," he added.

Officials said that the ground was still unstable and most rescue work was being carried out manually. Heavy machines were trying to clear mud that had cut access to the location. There was no phone signal in the area, making coordinating rescuing efforts difficult, they added. The agency said that 200 rescuers and 500 volunteers had joined the search for the missing.

Delaying rescue efforts was a lack of heavy equipment, Mr Nugroho added, while media showed power lines and houses buried under the mud.

Hundreds of rescuers were digging through mud and rubble after the landslide buried scores of houses, the national disaster agency said. The landslide swept down a hillside in the village, sparing only two houses, an AFP correspondent said.

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 250 million population lives in areas prone to landslides.

The vast Indonesian archipelago is one of the most natural disaster-prone nations on Earth, and is also frequently hit by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.