JAKARTA, Indonesia – Two landslides triggered by heavy rainfall and unstable soil killed at least 12 people in 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 a captain of the Indonesian army who helped rescue those who survived the first landslide on Saturday afternoon. They were hit by a second landslide that evening.
The landslides also destroyed a bridge and separated several streets in the western Java village of Cihanjuang. The rescuers worked well into the night but urgently needed heavy machinery to move the earth and reach possible survivors.
“The first landslide was caused by heavy rainfall and unstable soil conditions,” said Raditya Jati, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency. “Subsequent landslides occurred when officials were evacuating victims in the first landslide area.”
A woman whose family lives in the village, Dameria Sihombing, said her father, mother, nephew and niece were at home in the village at the time of the landslide. All four remain missing, she said by phone from Jakarta, the Indonesian capital about 90 miles northwest.
The first mudslide buried the family home, she said, and the second slide, larger than the first, buried it even deeper. Many spectators were also on the way to the second slide.
“A lot of people came to see the rescue team and suddenly the second landslide hit,” she said. “There were more casualties from the second because it was much bigger than the first landslide. My family is buried in the house and has not yet been found. “
Ms. Sihombing said her parents, both 60, moved to the village from Bandung, about an hour away, after retiring two years ago.
Many people were not in their homes at the time of the landslide because it was afternoon, she said. But her parents’ neighbors were also at home – a mother and three children. She didn’t know if their bodies had been found.
Fatal landslides are common in Indonesia, where deforestation and illegal small-scale gold mining often contribute to unstable soil conditions.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo warned in October that the country could experience more floods and landslides than usual due to the periodic weather pattern known as La Niña. The rainy season is expected to last until March.
“I want all of us to prepare for possible hydrometeorological disasters,” said the then president.
A local disaster officer said rescuers were still trying to determine how many people were missing until noon on Sunday. Eighteen people were reported as injured.
A video of the scene showed a river of mud plowed through a crowded neighborhood that appeared to crush and cover a number of buildings.
A video clip from the National Search and Rescue Agency scene showed rescuers working at night, lifting a body onto a stretcher and carrying it away.
Another showed a backhoe loader lifting a muddy van so rescuers could reach the ground below. The van said “Fight Virus” on the back.
The first landslide hit the village hours after a Sriwijaya Air passenger jet crashed into the Java Sea in heavy rain while taking off from Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, killing all 62 on board.
Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,500 islands spanning the equator, was once covered by vast rainforests. But in the past half century, many forests have been burned and cut down to make way for palm plantations and other farmland.
Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world with 270 million inhabitants and Java, the most populous island, has more than 140 million people.