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Rain halts search for survivors of Indonesian landslide

By Mohammad Taufan and Niniek Karmini
Updated July 10 2024 - 10:05pm, first published 10:00pm
Twenty-three bodies have been recovered at the Sulawesi mine and 30 other people are missing. (EPA PHOTO)
Twenty-three bodies have been recovered at the Sulawesi mine and 30 other people are missing. (EPA PHOTO)

Incessant rain has halted the search for 30 people believed trapped under a landslide that engulfed an unauthorised goldmine on Indonesia's Sulawesi island, killing at least 23 people.

More than 100 villagers were digging for grains of gold on Sunday in the remote and hilly village of Bone Bolango in Gorontalo province when tonnes of mud plunged down the surrounding hills and buried their makeshift camps.

The search was suspended on Wednesday afternoon due to heavy rain, said Heriyanto, head of the provincial Search and Rescue Office.

Rescuers had not yet been able to find the missing people, he said.

The National Search and Rescue Agency said 92 villagers managed to escape from the landslide.

Several of them were pulled out by rescuers, including 18 with injuries.

It said 23 bodies were recovered, including that of a four-year-old boy, while 30 people were missing.

More than 1000 personnel, including army troops, had been deployed in the search, said Edy Prakoso, the agency's operation director.

He said the Indonesian air force would send a helicopter to speed up the rescue operation, which has been hampered by heavy rains, unstable soil and rugged terrain.

Photos released by the agency showed an excavator removing tonnes of mud and rocks that blocked access to the site.

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

Environmental activists have campaigned for years to shut down such operations across the country, especially on Sulawesi, where the practice has grown.

Sunday's landslide reignited their calls.

"The local government which has allowed illegal gold mining activities in this area to continue has contributed to the deadly disaster," said Muhammad Jamil, who heads the legal division of the Mining Advocacy Network, an environment watchdog.

He said many people share the blame for illegal goldmining, from those working on the ground up to officials in the local council and the police.

Ferdy Hasiman, a mining and energy researcher at Alpha Research and Datacenter, said the proliferation of pit mines had long been blamed for environmental damage in upstream areas that had in turn exacerbated flooding and landslides downstream.

Australian Associated Press