CIJERUK, Indonesia – Soldiers and volunteers used their bare hands Thursday to search for survivors buried beneath tons of mud and rock after landslides wiped out several Indonesian villages, leaving more than 200 people dead or missing, officials said.
Twenty-six bodies have been recovered in Cijeruk since a landslide buried the community on Wednesday, said Aris Sudaryanto, coordinator of the search and rescue efforts. About 100 people were unaccounted for and feared dead.
Meanwhile, in the district of Jember hundreds of miles to the east, helicopters were trying to reach people who survived landslides and flash floods this week that killed at least 103 people, said local government spokesman Purwanto, who goes by one name. Dozens more were missing or stranded.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono planned to visit some of the affected areas Thursday.
Heavy tropical downpours cause dozens of landslides and flash floods each year in the world's most populous Muslim nation, where millions of people live in mountainous regions and near fertile flood plains close to rivers.
Many people in Cijeruk said they were aware the earth on the 50-yard hill that flanked their remote farming village may not hold. After hearing a deep rumbling sound just after midnight Wednesday, some fled to safer ground.
But others were at home either sleeping or performing Muslim prayers at the local mosque when the mud, rocks and trees tumbled onto their village just before dawn.
Saryono, a 50-year-old fruit farmer in Cijeruk, said he watched helplessly as dozens of his neighbors disappeared beneath mud more than 20 feet deep in some spots.
"They were yelling 'Allah Akhbar! (God is great!)' and then were slowly buried," said Saryono, who goes by one name. "I saw them buried alive."
Saryono himself was buried up to his waist until survivors rescued him 15 minutes later.
Hundreds of soldiers, police and local volunteers were digging through the debris on Thursday, getting some relief from clear weather following days of heavy rain.
Six excavators shoved aside earth and the remains of decimated wooden homes.
Meanwhile, in Jember, helicopters ferried away the injured and took food, medical supplies and clothes to thousands of people left homeless by the disaster.
Many roads and bridges were destroyed, hampering rescue efforts, Susilo said.
Jember is 490 miles east of Jakarta and 280 miles east of Cijeruk — all on the densely populated island of Java.