Rescuers search for dozens of people buried in a landslide in Indonesia that killed at least 17 people

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Rescue workers searched for dozens of missing people on Tuesday, digging through tons of mud and rubble left behind by a landslide that hit an illegal traditional gold mining area on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, killing at least eleven people.

More than 100 villagers were digging for gold grains in the remote hillside village of Bone Bolango on Sunday when tons of mud fell from the surrounding hills, burying their makeshift camps, said Heriyanto, head of the provincial search and rescue agency.

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

“The better weather allowed us to recover more bodies,” said Heriyanto, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name.

According to data released by his office on Tuesday, about 52 villagers managed to escape the 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. About 45 others are missing, the report said.

National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Abdul Muhari said torrential rains that have battered the mountainous district since Saturday triggered the landslide and a dike burst, causing flooding to reach roofs of homes in five villages in Bone Bolango, part of a mountainous district in Gorontalo province. Nearly 300 homes were affected and more than 1,000 people fled for safety.

Authorities have deployed more than 200 rescue workers, including police and military personnel, with heavy equipment to search for the dead and missing. The rescue operation was hampered by heavy rains, unstable ground and rough, forested terrain, said Afifuddin Ilahude, a local rescue official.

“As many people are missing and some remote areas are still inaccessible, the death toll is likely to rise,” Ilahude said, adding that sniffer dogs are also being deployed in the search.

Videos released by the National Search and Rescue Agency show rescuers using agricultural tools and sometimes their bare hands to pull a mud-covered body out of the thick mud, then place it in a black bag for burial.

Monsoon rains often cause landslides and flooding in Indonesiaan archipelago of more than 17,000 islands where millions of people live in mountainous areas or near flood plains.

Informal mining activities are common in Indonesia, providing a precarious livelihood for thousands of people who work in conditions that pose a high risk of serious injury or death. Landslides, flooding and tunnel collapses are just some of the hazards miners face. Much of the gold ore processing involves highly toxic mercury and cyanide, and workers often use little or no protection.

The last of the country major mining related accident occurred in April 2022, when a landslide hit an illegal traditional gold mine in the Mandailing Natal district of North Sumatra, killing 12 women who were panning for gold.

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

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