January 6, 2006

Indonesia landslides toll at 120, more rain expected

By Dwi Prasetyo

SIJERUK, Indonesia (Reuters) - Indonesian rescuers searched
on Friday for more bodies buried under tons of mud after
massive landslides on Java island while helicopters flew food
and medicine to some villagers still cut off.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he would
investigate whether environmental degradation had caused the
disasters this week. The combined official death toll stands at

Soldiers and police used excavators to clear mud and logs
off hundreds of flattened homes after torrential rains sent
landslides crashing into several villages.

Rescue officials said their efforts were being hampered by
a lack of equipment, thousands of onlookers and those who lost
their homes converging on the sites.

Meteorologists have predicted more heavy rains for the
country in the coming days.

Officials said they had found 43 bodies so far at Sijeruk
village in Central Java province, after a pre-dawn landslide on

Arif Sudaryanto, head of the search and rescue agency in
nearby Banjarnegara, said based on residents' reports an
estimated 40 people were still buried, much less than the
hundreds some officials said they feared had died.

In neighboring East Java, rescuers have found 77 bodies
from several villages hit by landslides and floods on Sunday.

Arifin Muhaji of the Indonesian Red Cross told Reuters that
helicopters were being used in East Java because some villagers
were difficult to reach after bridges were washed away.

"We have distributed tents, hygiene kits and food to them.
Military helicopters are carrying the injured out," he said.

Speaking near the site of the East Java disaster, Yudhoyono
promised action.

"We will look in-depth at what has caused these landslides
and floods, whether it is the stripping of forest or the
destruction of forest," Yudhoyono said in remarks carried on El
Shinta radio after he visited some villagers made homeless.

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 have blamed rains for the Sijeruk landslide as
the village lies at the foot of a tree-covered hill. Mud up to
20 feet high encased the remains of many homes, although not
all were hit by the debris.

But logging has come under the spotlight around the East
Java villages. Most residents there lived on coffee plantations
and river banks where many trees had been felled.

Meteorologists had predicted heavy rain in the coming days,
raising fears of more landslides and floods, Red Cross official
Muhaji said.

The Indonesian Red Cross had put 50,000 volunteers on
standby across Indonesia, he added.

Flooding and small landslides have damaged roads and
bridges this week in other parts of densely populated Java
island, where 130 million of Indonesia's 220 million people

Sijeruk lies about 220 miles east of Jakarta, while the
East Java landslides occurred around 500 miles east of the

(Additional reporting by Nury Sybli and Achmad Sukarsono in