Hopes fade for landslide survivors

CIWIDEY: Rescuers used heavy digging equipment today

to move tonnes of dislodged clay strewn with splintered remnants of upended houses after a mudslide on Indonesia’s main island of Java buried dozens, leaving at least 46 dead or missing, officials said.

Officials had earlier said 72 had probably died but later revised the figure down. At least 17 bodies have been pulled from the rubble, but many more are believed trapped.

“It seems there is no possibility of anyone among those 46 surviving,” said National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono. The true toll could be higher.

Days of heavy rain prompted the landslide Tuesday at a mountainous tea plantation near the

village of Tenjoljaya in

Ciwidey district of West

Java province.

Some village houses

and plantation buildings survived unscathed above where terraced rows

of tea plants cleaved off

the hillside and slid to a plain below.

Scores of houses as well as the plantation office and warehouse were rolled and crushed as they slid down the hillside with a swath of top soil and mud hundreds of yards (meters) wide.

Around 600 terrified survivors fled their hillside homes for tents on safer ground, fearing more of the mountainside would collapse under the continuing soaking rain, Kardono said.

Soldiers carried victims in orange body bags back up the hill through the tea plants to be identified. By late Wednesday, 17 bodies had been recovered, Kardono said. Many of the victims were plantation labourers who lived in huts on the plantation.

Most of the recovered bodies of men, women and a child were dug up from the residential area.

Villagers unearthed the first victims late Tuesday

using farm tools and

bare hands.

More than 100 soldiers, policemen, and Red

Cross volunteers joined

the search effort on Wednesday supported by two excavators.

But the search was postponed Wednesday afternoon due to heavy rain.

Vice President Boediono, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, visited the site Wednesday, accompanied by several government ministers.

Landslides are a common hazard in Indonesia during the current latter weeks of the monsoon season.