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Indonesia Landslide Death Toll Rises to 51

Recovery workers try to extricate the body of a victim of last week's landslide in Jemblung, Indonesia, Dec. 14, 2014

Rescue workers in Indonesia continue to dig through the mud of last week's landslide in central Java, with the death toll rising to 51.

Police Commissioner Wika Hardianto says 11 bodies were pulled Monday from debris in Jemblung village, three days after heavy rains triggered a massive landslide. He adds continuing rains are hampering the effort to recover more victims.

"When the soil is hardened, the canines can sniff the scent of dead bodies. Previously, the bloodhounds had discovered some of the bodies. So let us see how the situation will evolve, because if the rain stops, the excavation process could be quicker," says Hardianto.

President Joko Widodo visited the area Sunday and stressed the need to speed up search efforts. Rescuers had been digging through the mud and rubble with makeshift tools and even bare hands.

More than 2,000 police, soldiers and volunteers are involved in recovery efforts, with at least 55 people still missing.

People in the remote farming village say they heard a sound like thunder just after sunset Friday, as rocks and trees gave way to tons of flowing red mud.

Meanwhile, the local government continues efforts to open the main road in the disaster area.

Heavy equipment from the Ministry of Public Works is expected to speed up the efforts in the coming days. The regional transportation official, Mulyanto, tells VOA it will take at least a month to restore the local road infrastructure.

"Of course the first priority is to excavate the victims. The second is to restore infrastructure to facilitate access.... This will require time because the mounds of accumulated soil are unusually thick, up to several meters high."

According to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, about 41 million Indonesians live in areas prone to landslides.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Indonesian Service.