At Least 12 Dead in 2 Landslides in Indonesia


JAKARTA, Indonesia — 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 Sunday.

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.”

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.

“I want all of us to prepare in anticipation of possible hydrometeorological disasters,” the president said at the time.

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

A video of the scene showed a river of mud that had plowed through a densely packed neighborhood, apparently crushing and covering a number of buildings.

One video clip from the scene provided by the National Search and Rescue Agency showed rescuers working at night, lifting a body onto a stretcher and carrying it away.

Another showed a backhoe lifting a muddy van so that rescuers could reach the ground underneath. The van said “Fight Virus” on the back.

The first landslide struck the village hours after a Sriwijaya Air passenger jet crashed into the Java Sea upon takeoff from Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, in heavy rains, killing all 62 aboard.

Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,500 islands that straddles the Equator, was once covered by vast rain forests. But over the last half-century, many of the forests have been burned and logged to clear the way for palm plantations and other farmland.

With 270 million people, Indonesia is the world’s fourth largest country and Java, its most populous island, is home to more than 140 million.

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