Landslides Kill Dozens in Indonesia

ReutersA man being transported on his motorcycle through floods caused by torrential rains in Indonesia on Wednesday.
JAKARTA, Indonesia -- 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 Wednesday.

A provincial official said the landslides were the worst to hit the region in a 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, provincial police spokesman Syahroni said.

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.

Another person was found dead and 14 were missing after landslides and floods in the 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 mean that there is little vegetation to hold the soil.

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

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."

Meanwhile, in Aceh province Hundreds of Indonesians prayed at mass graves Wednesday, and in Thailand Buddhist monks held a ceremony to remember the many thousands who died in the Indian Ocean tsunami three years ago.

On Dec. 26, 2004, giant waves triggered by one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded, pulverized villages along Indian Ocean, killing or leaving missing about 230,000 people.