JAKARTA, Indonesia – Soldiers pulled out bodies from villages razed by floods and landslides in central Indonesia on Thursday, bringing the death toll to 190, while a further 140 others remained missing, many of them swept out to sea, officials said.
At least two roads were still blocked by landslides and waters and mud reached almost 2-meters high in hardest hit districts of southern Sulawesi province, said rescue official Abdul Malik.
In the worst-hit region of Sinjai, 175 people had been killed, while 15 others perished in neighboring regions, said local government spokesman Annas, who goes by a single name.
"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.
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.
"What has happened in Sinjai should become a lesson to all of Indonesia: people must be alert if torrential rains pours over areas where forests have been depleted," said Forestry Minister Malam Kaban.
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 1,600 kilometers (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 and government officials blame rampant deforestation, which they contend loosens soils on mountainsides.