Downpours Hamper Search for Indonesian Landslide Victims

Tia Asmara
190102_ID_Landslide_1000.jpg Rescuers search for victims of the landslide in West Java province, Jan. 1, 2019.
Photo courtesy of the National Search and Rescue Agency

Heavy rain and bad roads hampered the search for 20 people missing after this week’s deadly landslide in Indonesia’s West Java province, officials said Wednesday.

At least 15 people died when the landslide buried houses in a village in Sukabumi regency on Monday, National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said, calling it the biggest landslide to hit the area in 50 years. The government of Sukabumi has declared a seven-day emergency response period.

Since Monday, nearly 900 rescuers from the National Search and Rescue Agency, the military, police and residents dug through the mud, aided by three mechanical excavators and two tracking dogs, Sutopo said. Bad weather has slowed their efforts.

“Incessant downpours have caused more landslides from the hilltop,” Sutopo told reporters.

He said the loose soil in the village of 101 people was vulnerable to landslides.

“The area should have been designated as a conservation zone, not agriculture or settlement,” Sutopo said.

Iwan Rahmawandi, the chief of the Rapid Reaction Team at the Sukabumi Civil Protection Agency, said bad roads and rain forced rescuers to halt the search mid-afternoon on Wednesday.

“Narrow and steep roads mean they have to be extra careful,” he told BenarNews by telephone, adding that four smaller landslides had been recorded since Monday.

“Communication has also been difficult because the cellular signal there is not good,” he said. “More help is on its way but it’s been hampered by difficult road conditions.”

The rescuers needed more equipment such as mechanical excavators, shovels and latex gloves, he added.

Millions face risk of landslides

Sutopo said government data showed that nearly 41 million people across Indonesia lived in areas at risk of landslides, including those living in as many as 33 areas in Sukabumi.

“Areas prone to landslides are scattered along Sumatra, the central and southern parts of Java, Bali, Nusa Tenggara, Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua,” he said.

Despite efforts by local governments to inform people about disaster-prone areas, many were unaware of the danger, Sutopo said.

“Many people still don’t know what causes landslides and how to anticipate them. They receive little education about disaster mitigation,” he said.


Jokowi visits Lampung

Meanwhile on Wednesday, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo visited Lampung province in the wake of a tsunami in the Sunda Strait that killed at least 437 people in coastal areas of Lampung and Banten provinces on Dec. 22.

“There needs to be a review of regional spatial planning, especially in places at risk of events such as tsunami,” Jokowi said in a government statement.

More than 14,000 people were injured and nearly 37,000 displaced by the tsunami, according to the disaster management agency. Ten people are listed as missing.


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