Rescuers search for dozens buried in an Indonesian landslide that killed at least 17 people

In this photo released by the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS), rescuers prepare to head out to the site of a landslide that killed a number of people, in Suwawa on Sulawesi Island, Indonesia on July 8, 2024. Photo: BASARNAS via AP

In this photo released by the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS), rescuers prepare to head out to the site of a landslide that killed a number of people, in Suwawa on Sulawesi Island, Indonesia on July 8, 2024. Photo: BASARNAS via AP

Rescue workers searched for dozens of missing people on July 9, digging through tons of mud and the rubble left by a landslide that hit an unauthorised traditional gold mining area on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island and killed at least 11 people.

More than 100 villagers were digging for grains of gold on July 7 in the remote and hilly village of Bone Bolango when tons of mud plunged down the surrounding hills and buried their makeshift camps, said Heriyanto, head of the provincial Search and Rescue Office.

Rescue operations

Rescuers recovered six more bodies buried under tons of mud in a devastated hamlet where the gold mine is located.

“Improved weather allowed us to recover more bodies,” said Heriyanto, who goes by a single name, like many Indonesians.

According to data released on July 9 by his office, some 52 villagers managed to escape from landslide, about 23 people were pulled out alive by rescuers, including 18 injured, and 17 bodies were recovered, including three women and a 4-year-old boy. Some 45 others are missing, it said.

National Disaster Management Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari said torrential rains that have pounded the mountainous district since July 6 triggered the landslide and broke an embankment, causing floods up to the roofs of houses in five villages in Bone Bolango, which is part of a mountainous district in Gorontalo Province. Nearly 300 houses were affected and more than 1,000 people fled for safety

Challenging Rescue Operations Amid Adverse Conditions

Authorities deployed more than 200 rescuers, including police and military personnel, with heavy equipment to search for the dead and missing in a rescue operation that has been hampered by heavy rains, unstable soil, and the rugged, forested terrain, said Afifuddin Ilahude, a local rescue official.

“With many missing and some remote areas still unreachable, the death toll was likely to rise,” Mr. Ilahude said, adding that sniffer dogs were also being mobilized in the search.

Videos released by the National Search and Rescue Agency show rescue personnel using farm tools and sometimes their bare hands, pulling a mud-caked body from the thick mud before placing it in a black bag to take away for burial.

Monsoon rains cause frequent landslides and flash floods in Indonesia, an archipelago nation of more than 17,000 islands where millions of people live in mountainous areas or near floodplains.

Informal mining operations in Indonesia

Informal mining operations are common in Indonesia, providing a tenuous livelihood to thousands who labour in conditions with a high risk of serious injury or death. Landslides, flooding and collapses of tunnels are just some of the hazards facing miners. Much of gold ore processing involves highly toxic mercury and cyanide and workers frequently use little or no protection.

The country’s last major mining-related accident occurred in April 2022, when a landslide crashed onto an illegal traditional gold mine in North Sumatra’s Mandailing Natal district, killing 12 women who were looking for gold.

In February 2019, a makeshift wooden structure in an illegal gold mine in North Sulawesi province collapsed due to shifting soil and the large number of mining holes. More than 40 people were buried and died.



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