CIWIDEY, Indonesia – Rescuers used heavy digging equipment Wednesday to move tons of dislodged clay strewn with splintered remnants of upended houses
Officials had earlier said 72 had probably died but later revised the figure down. At least 17 bodies have been pulled from the rubble, but many more are believed trapped.
"It seems there is no possibility of anyone among those 46 surviving," said National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono. The true toll could be higher.
Days of heavy rain prompted the landslide Tuesday at a mountainous tea plantation near the village of Tenjoljaya in Ciwidey district of West Java province.
Some village houses and plantation buildings survived unscathed above where terraced rows of tea plants cleaved off the hillside and slid to a plain below.
Scores of houses as well as the plantation office and warehouse were rolled and crushed as they slid down the hillside with a swath of top soil and mud hundreds of yards (meters) wide.
Around 600 terrified survivors fled their hillside homes for tents on safer ground, fearing more of the mountainside would collapse under the continuing soaking rain, Kardono said.
Soldiers carried victims in orange body bags back up the hill through the tea plants to be identified. By late Wednesday, 17 bodies had been recovered, Kardono said.
Many of the victims were plantation laborers who lived in huts on the plantation.
Most of the recovered bodies of men, women and a child were dug up from the residential area.
Villagers unearthed the first victims late Tuesday using farm tools and bare hands.
More than 100 soldiers, policemen, and Red Cross volunteers joined the search effort on Wednesday supported by two excavators. But the search was postponed Wednesday afternoon due to heavy rain.
Vice President Boediono, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, visited the site Wednesday, accompanied by several government ministers.
Landslides are a common hazard in Indonesia during the current latter weeks of the monsoon season.