From: Reuters
Published December 26, 2007 06:41 AM

Landslides leave up to 81 dead or missing in Indonesia

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Landslides and floods caused by torrential rains have left up to 81 people dead or missing in Indonesia's Central Java province, police and rescue officials said on Wednesday.

A provincial official said the landslides were the worst to hit the region in quarter of a century as thousands of people moved to shelters after their homes were buried or washed away.

Rescue workers and police were struggling to reach the affected areas as roads were cut off by floods and mud, said provincial police spokesman Syahroni.

By late afternoon, 36 bodies had been recovered while 30 others were still buried under thick mud in Karang Anyar district near the banks of the Bengawan Solo river, said Heru, head of the local disaster coordinator agency.

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Another person was found dead and 14 were missing after landslides and floods in Central Java's Wonogiri and Sukoharjo districts, said Sarjono, a spokesman for the provincial government.

Landslides are frequent in Indonesia, where tropical downpours can quickly soak hillsides and years of deforestation often means there is little vegetation to hold the soil.

But Heru said he did not believe deforestation had contributed to the latest landslides.

"The forest in the area is thick," he said.

A lack of heavy equipment was slowing rescue efforts, officials said.

"It is difficult for any help to reach the area, so the local teams are left on their own," said Julianto, another official with the provincial government.

"The landslides took us by surprise. This is the first time in the last 25 years anything of this scale occurred here in Central Java."

Thousands of villagers in areas who lost their homes to floods or landslides have moved into temporary shelters in buildings and tents set up by emergency response teams, Julianto said.

Metro TV showed footage of ruined houses and residents wading through neck-high water.

(Reporting by Ahmad Pathoni and Adhityani Arga; Editing by Sugita Katyal and David Fogarty)

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