Rescuers on Thursday searched for possibly hundreds of victims buried under a massive landslide that smashed a village in Indonesia's Central Java province. Early on Thursday under blue skies after days of rain, four excavators were clearing debris and rescuers found three more mud-covered bodies, including a mother tightly hugging her child. So far, rescuers have pulled 19 bodies from the debris after Wednesday's pre-dawn disaster at Sijeruk village. Hundreds of rescuers from the military, police and local aid groups have joined the search effort. The Red Cross said the death toll could soar.
"There were more than 100 families living at the buried area and if we say each family has three members, 300 could be buried if all of them were there," Irman Rachman, head of disaster management at the Indonesian Red Cross, told Reuters.
"Hopefully, some were out of the village when it happened."
The disaster followed landslides in neighbouring East Java province earlier this week that have killed at least 77 people. Wednesday's landslide crashed into hundreds of houses in mountainous Sijeruk, home to around 700 people.
Not all homes were hit by the landslide, which erupted from a thickly forested hill, indicating that excessive logging was not the cause of the tragedy.
Local media reported about 90 villagers were still missing. Rescuers said they were retrieving bodies after digging through piles of mud. Evacuation efforts have been hampered by rain and a lack of equipment.
"The rain yesterday ruined the search. Hopefully, we can continue today as we have not gone to the centre," said Yusman Irianto, head of the social affairs department in the nearby town of Banjarnegara, about 350 km (220 miles) east of Jakarta.
"We have focused our search so far on the mosque and it was located at the edge (of the village)." Authorities believe many villagers were probably praying inside Sijeruk's destroyed mosque at the time of the landslide. Banjarnegara police have said about 500 Sijeruk residents were confirmed to have survived the disaster.
Floods and landslides are common in Indonesia, especially at this time of the year during the wet season. Many landslides are caused by illegal logging or the clearing of farmland that strips away natural barriers to such disasters. Officials blamed persistent, torrential rains for the Sijeruk incident as the village lies at the foot of a tree-covered hill, reports Reuters. I.L.