December 14, 2014 / 4:28 AM / 3 years ago

Indonesia rescuers use earth-movers in landslide rescue as toll rises to 32

A soldier watches as heavy machinery makes a new road after landslides hit the village of Sampang in Banjarnegara, December 14, 2014 in this photo taken by Antara Foto.Idhad Zakaria/Antara Foto

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian rescuers on Sunday used heavy-lifting equipment for the first time to clear roads leading to the site of a landslide that destroyed a village and killed at least 32 people, officials said, with scores still missing.

Police, soldiers and volunteers had used their bare hands and makeshift tools to search for survivors, while trucks cleared roads leading to the landslide area after the disaster struck on Friday night.

Hundreds have been evacuated from around Jemblung village in the Banjarnegara district of Central Java, about 450 km (280 miles) from the capital, Jakarta, where media pictures showed a flood of mud and water cascading down a wooded mountainside.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, said 32 people had been killed, 76 were missing and 577 people from the surrounding areas had been taken to temporary shelters. There were 2,000 rescuers involved in the operation on Sunday, he said.

Tri Joko Priyono, a coordinator with the National Search and Rescue Agency, who has taken part in rescue operations since Saturday, told Reuters there was now little chance of finding more survivors.

"We will keep searching,” Priyono added. “We will keep trying until all the victims are found. This is not about chances of life. Our mission is to recover all the victims."

Before visiting the landslide site on Sunday, President Joko Widodo said he would assess whether more heavy-lifting equipment was needed.

"Aid is not a problem, what is most important is the speed of the evacuation," Widodo told reporters.

Mudslides are common in Indonesia during the monsoon season, which usually runs from October until April.

Despite a history of similar disasters in the area, there was no heavy equipment specifically set aside for Banjarnegara, Nugroho said. There had been a fatal landslide in 2007 but people still chose to live there, he said.

Before the landslide, Jemblung village contained about 35 houses and one mosque, Nugroho added.

Reporting by Chris Nusatya and Michael Taylor; Editing by Nick Macfie and Stephen Powell

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