BANJARNEGARA, Indonesia — Heavy rains in central Indonesia loosened soil and collapsed a hill, setting off a landslide that killed at least 18 villagers and left 90 others missing under piles of mud, officials said.
Residents of Jemblung village in Central Java province’s Banjarnegara district said they heard a roaring sound followed by the rain of red soil that buried more than 100 houses late Friday.
“The landslide looked like it was spinning down. I managed to rescue a pregnant woman, but could not save the other man,” said Subroto, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.
He said one side of the hill collapsed and then another. “In five minutes, there were three (major landslides) and they swept away everything,” he said.
Hundreds of rescuers, including soldiers, police and residents, dug through the debris Saturday with their bare hands, shovels and hoes, while others used bamboo to carry black body bags containing corpses. About 420 residents were evacuated to temporary shelters.
Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, said some rescuers heard what sounded like calls for help coming from the debris, but they didn’t have equipment to dig . “Mud, rugged terrain and bad weather hampered our rescue efforts,” Nugroho said.
Tractors and bulldozers were later brought in.
Eighteen bodies were pulled from the mud and wreckage of crumpled homes, and rescuers were still searching for 90 people, said Sutedjo Slamet Utomo, the district chief of Barnjarnegara, about 460 kilometers east of the capital, Jakarta. Eleven villagers were hospitalized.
“It was like a nightmare. … We suddenly heard a terrible roar and we were immediately fleeing from the rain of red soil,” said Wahono, a resident who survived with four family members. “Many failed and they were buried in the ground.”
Wahono, who also uses only one name, said he heard people screaming and pleading for help in the heavy rain and darkness. But he said he was unable to do anything other than run with his family to safety.
The landslide was the second in several days on densely populated Java island. Mud and rocks hit Central Java’s Wonosobo district on Thursday, killing at least one villager.
Seasonal rains and high tides in recent days have caused dozens of landslides and widespread flooding across much of Indonesia, a chain of 17,000 islands where millions of people live in mountainous areas or near fertile flood-prone plains close to rivers.
Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta contributed to this report.