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Almost 150 feared dead in Indonesian landslide
Updated: 2005-02-21 21:28

Almost 150 people were believed to have died under hundreds of tonnes of garbage and earth when heavy seasonal rain unleashed a massive landslide in Indonesia, police said.

The landslide struck in the early hours when people were asleep and flattened up to 70 homes built in the shadow of a dumpsite at Cimahi, near Bandung, around 200 kilometres (120 miles) southeast of Jakarta.

Whole houses and trees lay buried under tonnes of earth and rubbish, with splintered rafters poking through the mass of earth and smashed roof tiles and wooden beams littering the area.

One survivor, 22-year-old Neneng, lost six relatives in the landslide although her own house was only partially damaged. She said she and her husband were woken by a deep rumbling sound.

"It sounded like the noise of a creaking old bed," she told AFP.

As many as 1,000 rescuers in search teams from the military, police and local residents desperately scoured the site, picking though piles of brick and rubble in the forlorn hope of digging anyone out alive.

The search was suspended due to lack of light after sunset and was due to resume at dawn, officials said.

Police Commissioner Susiyanti told AFP that 17 bodies had so far been pulled from the rubble and a further 129 were missing and believed buried under the mountain of garbage.

"It appears that all of them are buried and it is very likely that they are all dead," Susiyanti said.

Another resident, Rohimin, 42, said he feared that because there were always scavengers in the tip, the true toll could end up being closer to 200.

Of those bodies already recovered, Susiyanti said, "some of them are badly disfigured, some aren't.

"The situation is still grave but we will continue rescue efforts while the weather still allows us to do so," she said. Rain had so far held off during the rescue efforts and the forecast overnight was for dry weather.

The recovery effort was being hindered because rescuers feared triggering further landslides by disrupting the unstable ground, Susiyanti added.

The dumpsite was located on top of a hill above the homes and heavy rain had saturated the mountains of trash, causing the disaster, she explained.

"This tragedy was caused by unregulated waste disposal over the course of 15 years," local official Ahmad Rukhiyat added.

Second Sergeant Sudrajat from the Batujajar subdistrict police post said that while several bodies had been dragged from shattered homes at the edge of the landslide, only five people had been pulled out alive.

A policeman in Cimahi named Awan told AFP that at least 70 houses were engulfed.

Local village chief Saiful Bagir said local authorities had promised on six occasions to relocate the dumpsite, deemed to be a threat to the homes, but had not done so, Indosiar television reported.

Landslides are relatively common in Indonesia during the rainy season, especially on the most populated and mountainous island of Java.

Last year at least 42 people were killed in West Sumatra when a landslide buried a bus under tons of soil, trees and bushes.

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