Landslide in West Java destroys Sirnaresmi village, leaving at least 15 dead
It is hard to believe that Sirnaresmi village once stood on the hillside. (ABC News: Phil Hemingway)
Uun Suryati, 63, has lived at Sirnaresmi village more than half her life. Thirty two years in the same house that looks out over rice paddies nestled between the steep hills of West Java’s Sukabumi district.
- The landslide came with a sudden roar, shocking residents of Sirnaresmi village
- Fifteen bodies have been pulled from the debris and another 20 people are missing
- Rain is making the search and rescue operation extremely difficult
But never in all those years has she seen — or heard — a landslide like the one that struck the remote rural village on Monday.
“It was six o’clock in the evening. I heard this sudden sound, a roar,” she says.
“Then there was this strong wind — like a hurricane or something. And then came the landslide.”
Mrs Suryati was lucky. Her house was a few dozen metres away from the torrent of mud that without warning careened down the hillside within the space of seconds.
The locals of Sirnamesmi village were caught by surprise when the landslide hit. (ABC News: Phil Hemmingway)
Her home was left untouched. But much of the village — including neighbours and families she has known for decades — are now buried metres underground.
“[The land] was shaking, I was so weak and so scared,” she says, as she sits on her front porch with her children to survey the devastation.
Sirnaresmi is one of several villages hit by landslides and flooding across Indonesia in the past week.
But it is the worst hit so far as the wet season sets in.
Indeed, for an outsider, it is hard to imagine there was even a village there at all.
As the hillside gave way under heavy wet season rains, it deposited a layer of mud so deep about 30 houses have disappeared with barely a trace.
Only a handful of homes are still visible, their roofs sticking out at odd angles above the muddy surface.
“If there were bodies they would be buried under the mud between two-three metres-deep, we’re not sure yet because there are a lot of rocks that have come down with the landslide, and there are a lot of massive boulders,” says Yudi Darmawan one of hundreds of emergency workers who joined the rescue operation.
“It’s hard for us to search as we have to lift the massive rocks first.”
Locals dig for survivors and belongings in the thick mud and debris. (ABC News: Phil Hemmingway)
Fifteen bodies have been pulled from the debris since Monday. Another 20 people are still missing in the muddy ooze.
Relatives wailed as they watched rescue workers pull one mud-caked body to the surface. It was placed in a blue bag and taken away for burial.
Among four early survivors was a toddler who later died in hospital.
For three days residents and rescue workers have been digging with their bare hands and any tools they can find to search for survivors.
People keep searching for bodies days after the landslide in West Java. (ABC News: Phil Hemmingway)
But the treacherous conditions have made it difficult and dangerous.
Continuing torrential rains have turned the mud into a slippery ooze, making it impossible to use tractors or other heavy lifting equipment in the worst areas.
And other, smaller landslides have blocked roads into the area.
Didin — who goes by only one name — has spent days helping his family salvage what they can and carry their belongings to drier ground.
A steady procession of people has ferried muddy furniture, clothing and motorbikes from the few houses that are partly submerged.
Incredibly more than 60 residents survived — almost half the village population — either lucky enough to be outside or away from their homes when the mudslide hit, or quick enough to run to safety.
But the chance of finding more survivors is slim and the wet season is only now reaching its peak.
No sooner do rescue workers move back in with their hoes and shovels, than the clouds close in and send another torrential downpour into the mud below.
And with every rain the risk of further landslides increases as more water soaks into the now-fragile hillside.
Mrs Suryati’s neighbours suddenly scream when they hear a rumble from across the rice fields, fearing another imminent mudslide.
At least once, authorities have had to evacuate the surrounding area until the rains subside, and the risk of another landslide is assessed.
If conditions worsen it is feared they may have no choice but to turn the site into a mass grave.