Rescuers searched yesterday for more bodies buried under tons of mud after massive landslides in Indonesia, and the president said he would investigate whether environmental degradation was to blame.
Soldiers and police used excavators to clear mud and logs off flattened homes after torrential rains sent landslides crashing into several villages on Java island this week. The combined official death toll stands at 120.
Rescue officials said their efforts were being hampered by a lack of equipment, thousands of onlookers and those who lost their homes converging on the sites.
Officials said they had found 43 bodies so far at Sijeruk village in Central Java province, after a pre-dawn landslide on Wednesday.
Arif Sudaryanto, head of the search and rescue agency in nearby Banjarnegara, told Reuters that based on residents' reports an estimated 40 people were still buried, much less than the hundreds some officials said they feared had died.
In neighboring East Java, rescuers have found 77 bodies from several villages hit by landslides and floods on Sunday.
Speaking near the site of the East Java disaster, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised action.
"We will look in-depth at what has caused these landslides and floods, whether it is the stripping of forest or the destruction of forest," Yudhoyono said in remarks carried on El Shinta radio after he visited some villagers made homeless.
Floods and landslides are common in Indonesia, especially at this time of the year 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 meters 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.
One member of the Indonesian Red Cross, Arifin, said rescue efforts in East Java were being stymied because bridges were still down and roads were muddy.
"There are also many people looking at the corpses and searching for their lost property, which is making it difficult to retrieve bodies," he said on El Shinta radio.
Flooding and small landslides have damaged roads and bridges this week in other parts of densely populated Java island, where 130 million of Indonesia's 220 million people live.
Sijeruk lies about 350 kilometers east of Jakarta, while the East Java landslides occurred around 800 kilometers east of the capital.