Indonesian landslide triggered by heavy rain leaves 11 dead and dozens missing at illegal gold mine

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A landslide triggered by torrential rains crashed onto an unauthorized gold mining operation on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island, killing at least 11 people, officials said. Dozens others were reported missing Monday.

More than 100 villagers were digging for grains of gold on Sunday in the remote Bone Bolango district in Gorontalo province when tons of mud plunged down the surrounding hills and buried their makeshift camps, said Heriyanto, head of the Search and Rescue Office.

He said 44 people managed to escape from landslide, some of them pulled out alive by rescuers, including six injured. They recovered 11 bodies, revising an earlier death toll of 12 after officials discovered one of the dead had been listed twice. Some 48 others are missing, he said.

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

National Disaster Management Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari said 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. Nearly 300 houses were affected and more than 1,000 people have fled for safety.

Informal mining operations are common in Indonesia, providing a tenuous livelihood to thousands who labor in conditions with a high risk of serious injury or death.

Landslides, flooding and collapses of tunnels are just some of the hazards facing miners. Much of gold ore processing involves highly toxic mercury and cyanide and workers frequently use little or no protection.

The country’s last major mining-related accident occurred in April 2022 when a landslide crashed onto an illegal traditional gold mine in North Sumatra’s Mandailing Natal district, killing 12 women who were looking for gold.

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