JAKARTA, Indonesia – Villagers and rescue teams Thursday searched for survivors on an Indonesian island hit by floods and landslides, as the number of killed climbed to 178, officials said.
More than 135 other people were missing in southern districts of Sulawesi Island, with many feared to have been swept out to sea. At least two roads were still blocked by landslides and flood waters reached almost 2-meters high in one district, said rescue official Abdul Malik.
In the worst-hit region of Sinjai, 168 people had been killed, according to information posted on a board outside an emergency relief center there. At least 10 others have died in neighboring regions, officials said.
The flash floods and landslides were triggered by incessant rains since Monday, and the government has promised an investigation into claims that illegal logging may have been a contributory factor.
"Search and rescue efforts are still underway to find missing bodies and evacuate people from devastated areas, but rescuers say most of the missing people are likely to have been swept out to sea," said Ode Parmodes, an official at the island's disaster relief coordination office.
Hundreds of people flocked to hospitals to look for missing relatives, witnesses said.
A survivor called Rohim recounted being swept out to sea after a flood tore through his house early on Tuesday morning. He survived for nine hours by hanging onto a piece of drift wood, but his wife and two sons were still missing.
"I pray for them, and hope rescuers can find them," he said at Sinjai hospital, where he had been looking for their bodies in the morgue. "I will stay here until I can find them: dead or alive."
Sulawesi is about 1,000 miles northeast of Indonesia's capital, Jakarta.
Seasonal downpours cause dozens of landslides and flash floods each year in Indonesia, where millions of people live in mountainous regions and near fertile flood plains close to rivers. Some environmentalists blame rampant deforestation, which they contend loosens soils on mountainsides.