January 8, 2006

Indonesia ends landslide evacuations, toll at 137

By Achmad Sukarsono

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian rescuers on Sunday ended
days of searching for bodies buried in mud from landslides that
hit two separate areas on Indonesia's Java island, putting the
combined death toll from the disasters at 137.

Soldiers, police and volunteers have toiled to clear mud
and rubble of flattened homes after torrential disasters sent
landslides crashing into several adjacent villages in East Java
province last week and a hillside hamlet in neighboring Central
Java province on Wednesday.

Eddy Susilo, head of the information department in the East
Java town of Jember, said seven days of searching there had led
to the discovery of 79 bodies.

"The search for victims ended today. We are now focusing on
clearing out rubble so survivors can be relocated," he told
Reuters by phone from Jember, 800 km (650 miles) east of

Evacuation efforts also have stopped in Central Java's
remote Sijeruk village where the latest death toll is at 58
with some 20 residents unaccounted for.

The deputy regent of the nearby town of Banjarnegara, 350
km (220 miles) east of Jakarta, told Reuters on Saturday that
chances of finding any more bodies were remote.

Rescue efforts in both locations have been difficult
because of the lack of equipment, the presence of thousands of
onlookers and sporadic rains through the week.

Floods and landslides are common in Indonesia, especially
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
6 metres (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.

(additional reporting by Heri Retnowati in Surabaya)