BANYUMAS, Indonesia: The death toll from landslides and flooding in Indonesia rose to 43 on Monday, an official said, after hundreds of homes were engulfed by surging torrents of mud and rock.
Hundreds of rescuers were searching through wrecked houses and mounds of earth for 19 villagers still missing after days of rain triggered the landslips and flash floods on mountainous Java island at the weekend.
The natural disasters happened across densely populated Central Java province, with fast-moving walls of mud, rock and water engulfing buildings as they raced down hillsides and drivers swept off roads.
Villagers were forced to seek refuge on rooftops as the floodwaters rose. Rescuers were using excavators to hunt for survivors in more accessible areas, and in remoter places were digging through debris with their bare hands and shovels.
Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said 43 people were confirmed dead, 19 were missing and 14 had suffered injuries. Hundreds of homes were badly damaged, with some completely flattened.
He said that a La Niña weather system, that typically causes unseasonably heavy rains, could have contributed to the weekend disasters. Java, which should be entering the dry season, has been hit by torrential downpours in recent weeks.
“This June there’s still heavy rainfall which is causing floods and landslides,” Nugroho said, warning La Niña was set to strengthen in the coming months and would increase the risk of disasters.
Indonesia and other parts of Asia had been affected by a strong El Niño, which brings drought and sizzling temperatures. La Niña often follows an El Niño phenomenon.
He also blamed inadequate preparations, saying that his agency had warned local authorities that heavy rains were coming but it was not clear if they had taken action.
The area worst affected by floods and landslides was Purworejo district, where 27 people died, Nugroho said. Deaths were also reported in Banjarnegara and Kebumen districts.
Evacuation centers, equipped with temporary shelters and kitchens, have been set up near the disaster zones.
Landslides and flooding are common in Indonesia, a vast tropical archipelago prone to natural disasters and torrential downpours.