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Indonesia: Landslide on Sulawesi leaves over a dozen dead

July 8, 2024

A landslide has struck a remote Indonesian village, where residents were illegally mining for gold. Several individuals remain unaccounted for.

A photo of the rescue operations in Indonesia after the landslide
An injured victim of a landslide being rescued by the Indonesian National Search and Rescue AgencyImage: BASARNAS/AP/dpa/picture alliance

At least 12 people died and dozens were reported missing after heavy rains triggered a landslide in Indonesia. The mudslide crashed into an unauthorized gold mining operation on Indonesia's Sulawesi island on Monday, officials confirmed.

Around 100 villagers were digging for gold on Sunday in the remote Bone Bolango district in Gorontalo province. Gorontalo is one of the six Indonesian provinces on the island of Sulawesi, and located on Sulawesi's northeastern peninsula.

A photo of the rescue operations in Indonesia after the deadly landslide
Rescue workers prepare for the operation at the site of a landslide that killed several peopleImage: BASARNAS/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Heavy rains hinder relief efforts

Indonesia experienced torrential rains, causing mud to plunge down the surrounding hills and burying their makeshift camps, Head of the Search and Rescue Office, Heriyanto reported. Heriyanto goes by only one name. 

Rescuers pulled out more than 40 people out of the debris. Among the 12 confirmed deaths, the officials recovered the dead bodies of  three women and a 4-year-old boy.

Some 48 others are still missing,  Heriyanto said.

"Relief efforts for the dead and missing were hampered by heavy rain and blocked roads covered with thick mud and debris,"  rescue official Afifuddin Ilahude said.

Landslides common in Indonesia

Indonesia is prone to landslides during the rainy season between November and April, but July is usually dry season and heavy rains are rare.

Torrential rains that have pounded the area since Saturday also broke an embankment, causing floods of up to 3 meters (10 feet) in five villages in Bone Bolango, National Disaster Management Agency spokesperson, Abdul Muhari said.

The rains affected 300 houses in the area, where more than a thousand people left their homes for safer and higher grounds. 

Locals risk lives in unlicensed mines

Unlicensed mines are common across the mineral-rich Southeast Asian archipelago, where abandoned sites attract locals who hunt for leftover gold ore without proper safety equipment.

Thousands of workers in Indonesia rely on informal mining operations, despite the high risk of serious injury or death. Miners face hazards such as landslides, flooding, and tunnel collapses, AFP reported.

Gold ore processing often involves toxic substances like mercury and cyanide, and workers often lack proper protection.

In 2022, a major mining-related accident occurred when a landslide struck an illegal traditional gold mine in North Sumatra’s Mandailing Natal district, resulting in the death of 12 women who were also digging for gold

A makeshift wooden structure, in an illegal gold mine in North Sulawesi province collapsed in 2019 due to shifting soil and the large number of mining holes. More than 40 people were buried and died.

sp/wd (dpa, AFP, AP)