Sun, 02 Feb 2003

Landslide kills 10 in Kuningan, W. Java

Nana Rukmana, The Jakarta Post, Kuningan, West Java

Rescue workers and local villagers continued on Saturday the search for the two remaining bodies of at least 10 people killed in a landslide that buried their houses in Cantilan village, in the West Java town of Kuningan.

The tragedy early Friday came after a deadly landslide in Garut regency, to the southwest of Kuningan, claimed the lives of at least 21 people three days earlier.

One person was also injured in the landslide in Kuningan, when it swept down on four houses at 12:30 a.m. in the hamlet of Belah in Selajambe subdistrict, some 60 kilometers south of Cirebon, when local residents were still asleep.

The landslide, carrying mud from Mount Jaga, destroyed three of the houses and swept away five electricity poles, cutting the power supply to the village and to other neighboring villages.

The landslide also cut off the roads connecting Kuningan and Selajambe, as well as another subdistrict of Subang.

Cantilan village head Diding Amin Suryadi said eight of the 10 dead had so far been recovered from the debris. "Seven bodies were recovered on Friday and another on Saturday," he told The Jakarta Post at the scene.

The dead victims were members of two families, and were identified as: Yoyoh, 28, her daughter Elis, 7, and her six-month-old baby Septa; and Sunadi, 45, his wife Liyah, 35, their four children, Nani Suryani, 12, Ririn, 9, Jejen, 7, and Agus, 6, and Sunadi's 70-year-old mother Karsih.

Yoyoh's husband, Muhammad Sholeh, 45, is being treated in the intensive care unit at Kuningan General Hospital for serious wounds.

"All the recovered eight bodies have been buried by local villagers," Diding said.

Rescuers, police and military personnel, along with hundreds of volunteer villagers, were searching for the bodies of Ririn and Karsih. It is believed they had either been buried by the mud or drowned in the nearby Cijolang River.

"The missing bodies are most likely buried in the 10-meter deep mud," First Insp. Sukirman, who is leading the rescue team, told the Post.

Deforestation from illegal logging is being blamed for some of the recent landslides that have occurred in many areas across the country, including Tuesday's disaster in Garut, but Kuningan Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Hasanudin did not consider it a factor in Cantilan.

He said the landslide, triggered by days of torrential rains, was "purely a natural disaster".

"So far, we haven't found any evidence of human error, such as clearing the land or other activities that have damaged the forest. The investigation showed the geologic conditions of the affected village and neighboring areas to be unstable and highly prone to landslides during heavy rains," he said.

Diding confirmed that the landslide followed a week of rainstorms. "The heaviest rain started late Thursday afternoon, about nine hours before the disaster," he added.

He said Friday's landslide was the latest to hit Cantilan after 1982, when a similar disaster destroyed 12 houses.

Sutini, a 45-year-old local villager, recalled that when the landslide hit, she had not yet gone to bed because she was disturbed by the sounds of rain and strong winds.

Exactly at 12:30 a.m., she heard a sudden thunder, which was shortly followed by a blackout, she said.

"The thunder sounded very loud. And I heard cries of people asking for help. It awakened the other villagers, who rushed to the cries and found a blanket of mud from Mount Naga," she added.

Kuningan Regent Arifin Setiamihardja, who visited the scene on Friday, said he had ordered the evacuation of all 43 families, or 136 people, from the village to safer areas to protect them from further landslides.

The local health office would set up a branch post and a kitchen to serve those residents being evacuated to the village hall, the Cantilan elementary school and the safe houses of neighbors, he added.

"We don't want to take any risks. The evacuation is to prevent more victims. We have coordinated with the water management to supply clean water, and local military and police officers to ensure security for the safe houses," Arifin said.