, CIWIDEY, Feb 24 – Hopes faded on Wednesday for up to 70 people buried by a landslide that killed at least 16 in Indonesia, as more rain and fears of fresh slippages forced rescuers to suspend their search.
Stunned villagers stood by in silence as bodies were dug out of the sticky clay that crushed homes, offices and a processing plant at a tea plantation south of Jakarta on Tuesday.
Survivors said the earth crashed down with the sound of an explosion, giving plantation workers and their families almost no warning.
"According to our latest data, 14 adults and two children died," West Java police spokesman told AFP adding that crews had temporarily halted their search due to fears of further landslides.
"It has been raining continuously today. We found fresh cracks on the slopes near the first landslide. We\’re scared more landslides could occur and we don\’t want to risk the lives of rescuers so, we stopped search temporarily."
"We will monitor the situation. Very likely we will resume the search tomorrow," he said.
Disaster Management Agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono said that up to 70 people were still missing. Rescue efforts have been hampered by blocked roads in the rugged terrain, officials said.
About 1,000 rescuers including police and soldiers were involved in the search for those buried on the once-picturesque plantation near Ciwidey village, about 35 kilometres (22 miles) southwest of Bandung city.
Earlier in the day, rescuers had used their bare hands and simple tools such as hoes and metal scoops to dig the "thick and sticky soil", West Java police spokesman Dade Ahmad said.
"But later, we managed to get two excavators into the disaster site," he added. "The landslide is very deep. At this point, the chance of pulling out victims alive is slim," he added.
Witnesses said the mud seemed to have flowed down from a nearby hill in a massive "S" shape after heavy rains overnight Monday.
Plantation worker Rosmana, 35, said the earth came down with what sounded like an explosion.
"It happened suddenly. I saw soil mixed with water coming down very fast towards my village. I panicked and worried about my two sons," she told AFP.
"I rushed to my house and found that my four aunties and a little nephew were buried. My oldest son managed to survive because he ran with other residents to higher ground. My youngest was safe at school."
Sniffer dogs had been brought in to look for bodies, Ahmad said.
"We\’re still trying to bring in the heavy earth-moving equipment. It\’s difficult to get to the area, which is on a steep slope," he added.
Tea plantation worker Maryati said her son was buried in their house beneath the mud.
"It was around eight o\’clock in the morning when I heard a very loud explosion. I rushed to check what had happened and saw a large mass of soil had buried the houses," she told state-run Antara news agency.
"I panicked because my five-year-old son was in our house. I tried to find him but it\’s impossible. If he can\’t survive, I pray to God that I can find his body."
Indonesian Vice President Boediono and several ministers toured the disaster area late afternoon.