Hillside crashes onto Indonesian farmers; 5 dead, 18 missing

Rescuers search for victims at the site of a landslide in Brebes, Central Java, Indonesia, Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. Farmers were working in their rice paddies on the main island of Java, when the soggy hillside above them collapsed under the weight of torrential rains, killing a number people and leaving rescuers digging for more than a dozen missing. (AP Photo)

BREBES, Indonesia — Farmers were working in their rice paddies on the Indonesian island of Java, when the soggy hillside above them collapsed under the weight of torrential rains, killing five people and leaving rescuers digging for 18 missing.

Survivors described a sudden roar as Thursday's landslide was unleashed, sweeping trees and everything else in its path toward the terraced rice fields below.

"The hill above us looked like it was spinning down," said Watirah, a 53-year-old farmer from Pasir Panjang village, who with other villagers from the affected hamlet in Central Java's Brebes district tried to outrun the sliding earth.

"I tried to keep going, tried to stand up and screamed loudly for help before I fell again," said Watirah, who goes by a single name. "I felt my body was so weak I couldn't stand up, but three people came to save me," she said. Her husband, Minarto, who was working in a nearby field, also narrowly survived.

Hundreds of rescuers including soldiers and villagers were using their bare hands and farm tools to search for victims buried beneath tons of mud and soil. The search and rescue team was having difficulty finding victims because of the unstable muddy conditions and width of the landslide.

"Heavy equipment cannot be used," said National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

Sutopo said 14 people were hospitalized with injuries. He said 18 others are missing based on reports from residents.

Local disaster official Eko Andalas said the landslide, which started in surrounding hills that are part of a forestry plantation, was triggered by torrential rains.

Disaster officials urged people to stay away from the area because of the risk of further landslides.

Seasonal rains cause widespread flooding and landslides across much of Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands. Millions of people live in mountainous regions and on flood plains.

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