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Search intensifies for Indonesian landslide victims

by Staff Writers
Tawangmangu, Indonesia (AFP) Dec 28, 2007
Rescue workers stepped up a hunt Friday for victims of landslides and floods that claimed scores of lives on Indonesia's Java island and displaced thousands, an official said.

The landslides smashed through homes, burying families alive, in the early hours of Wednesday after monsoon rains lashed Central and East Java provinces this week and also triggered devastating floods.

More than 1,000 rescue workers resumed the search for bodies for a third day Friday in Central Java's worst-hit Karanganyar district, still mainly using their hands and basic equipment, officials said.

"We have intensified the search today (Friday) by deploying more rescuers who started their work today at 5:00 am," said the head of the local disaster management centre, Heru Aji Pratomo.

Six more bodies were retrieved from the gnarled wreckage on Friday, he told AFP, bringing the total number of confirmed dead here to 55, with around a further 11 still listed as missing.

A second excavator had arrived and more were expected to help the search in the hilly region, he said. Landslides blocked the way of earth-moving equipment initially, but then winding roads and poor weather hindered their progress.

An AFP correspondent at the scene said large fallen tree trunks were hampering recovery efforts and chainsaws were needed to cut through them.

About half the workers here were troops drafted in from the military commands in nearby districts, he added.

District regent Rina Iriani told a local newspaper that of the 12 houses destroyed in worst-hit Mogol, at least three belonged to major cultivators of exotic anthurium flowers, for which the area is known.

In adjacent Wonogiri district, the head of the disaster management centre said eight bodies had been recovered and nine remained missing. Only manual equipment was being used in the hunt, he said.

Most bodies in the disaster so far have been recovered by workers using their hands and crude equipment such as planks of wood.

In East Java, where raging floods swept away a major bridge, police have said about 50 people were estimated to be missing based on witness accounts of vehicles on the bridge at the time.

The state Antara news agency reported that the bodies of two children aged six and seven had been recovered.

"Both children were found by local people combing the river's banks," a district police chief, Sunarta, was quoted as saying.

Alit Suyasa, another policeman, earlier told AFP that only three people have been reported missing by their families, but "police have to work based on witness reports."

He said eight motorcycles and five bicycles had been recovered and their owners were safe.

"The flood waters have receded by a quarter which is making it easier to search for bodies," he added.

Health ministry official Rustam Pakaya said by text message that 41,000 people remained displaced in Central Java with 2,000 still unable to return home in East Java. His figures were matched by the Red Cross.

Landslides and flooding are common in Indonesia during the rainy season, which hits a peak from December to February.

Activists say unchecked deforestation is to blame, although officials have said the latest disasters occurred in steep residential areas that were unstable anyway.

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Natural catastrophes will grow with climate change: re-insurer
Frankfurt (AFP) Dec 27, 2007
Natural catastrophes in 2007 were more frequent and costlier than a year earlier and climate change will make them more expensive still, the world's second-biggest re-insurer, Munich Re, said Thursday.

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