At Least 12 Lifeless in 2 Landslides in Indonesia

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 looking 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 late into the night, but had to urgently use 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.”

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 last half century, many forests have been burned and cut down to make way for palm plantations and other farmland.

With 270 million inhabitants, Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world and Java, the most populous island, has more than 140 million people.

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