MANADO, Indonesia — Rescuers found five more bodies in the mud after flooding and landslides in northern Indonesia, bringing the death toll to 15 after the disaster that sent thousands fleeing for safe ground, police and witnesses said Monday.
Crying relatives watched in horror as residents and rescuers pulled out muddy corpses on Sunday from seven hamlets devastated by landslides and floods in Manado, the capital of North Sulawesi province, while more than 1,000 houses were flooded by an overflowing river.
Authorities struggled to get tractors and bulldozers over washed-out roads hours after torrential rain sent mud and rocks crashing into hilly areas of Manado. Hundreds of police, soldiers and residents were digging through the debris with their bare hands, shovels and hoes.
North Sulawesi police chief Brig. Gen. Dicky Atotoy said 14 bodies were pulled from the mud and wreckage of crumpled homes, including three children aged between 3 and 10, and another was found in water late Sunday. About 8,100 people fled to temporary shelters.
Women wailed as a mud-caked body was put into a black bag and taken away for burial, while other distraught relatives screamed, footage on TVOne showed.
Residents in Tingkulu hamlet said they were busy cleaning out piles of soil from a previous landslide when suddenly mud and rocks cascaded down hills hours later, said a neighborhood chief Lucky Sumakud.
“It was horrible … we were immediately fleeing, but some failed and (were) buried in the ground,” he said, adding that a mother and her two children were found dead cuddled together.
Rivers bloated by days of rain burst their banks in several parts of Manado, forcing people to leave their flooded homes, said Atotoy. Witnesses said water levels were a yard (meter) high in places.
Residents scrambled to save their most valuable possessions, from television sets to motorbikes. Others carried the elderly through the water or sat on rooftops, waiting for the floods to subside.
Seasonal rains and high tides in recent days have caused widespread flooding across much of Indonesia, the world’s fourth most-populous nation. Millions of people live in mountainous regions and near fertile flood plains that are close to rivers.