Indonesia landslide deaths climb to 21; dozens still missing

This aerial photo released by Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) on Wednesday, March 8, 2023. (BNPB via AP)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Rescuers recovered more bodies buried under tons of mud from a landslide that crashed onto a hilly village on Indonesia’s remote Natuna islands, bringing the death toll to 21, officials said Thursday.

The landslide, triggered by torrential downpours, plunged down surrounding hills on Monday, burying 30 houses in Genting village on a tiny remote island in the Natuna archipelago at the edge of the South China Sea, the National Search and Rescue Agency said in a statement.

Authorities have deployed more than 200 rescuers from the search and rescue agency, police and military to search for 33 people still missing who were apparently trapped in houses that were buried under the landslide, which was 4 meters (13 feet) deep, it said.

Eight people were pulled out alive with injuries, three of whom are in critical condition, National Disaster Management Agency chief Suharyanto said Thursday. They were rushed late Monday to a hospital in Pontianak city on Borneo island, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Genting, but one person died at sea on the way.

The search and rescue operation has been hampered by heavy rains around the disaster site. Weather has forced the search effort to be halted several times, while downed communications lines and electricity are also impeding the operation, said Suharyanto who, like many Indonesians, uses a single name.

“We are doing our best to find the missing victims,” Suharyanto said, adding that sniffer dogs are also being mobilized in the search.

Two helicopters and several vessels carrying rescuers, medical teams and relief supplies, including tents, blankets and food arrived on the island from Jakarta and nearby islands on Wednesday.

Monday’s landslide displaced about 1,300 people who were taken to four temporary shelters, Suharyanto said. Authorities feared the death toll could still rise.

Seasonal rains and high tides in recent days have caused dozens of landslides and widespread flooding across much of Indonesia, a chain of 17,000 islands where millions of people live in mountainous areas or near fertile flood plains close to rivers.

In November 2022, a landslide triggered by a 5.6 magnitude earthquake killed at least 335 people in West Java’s Cianjur city, about a third of them children