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In this photo released by the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS), an injured victim of a landslide is cared for in Suwawa on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi early Monday, July 8, 2024. The landslide, triggered by torrential rains, hit an unauthorized gold mining operation on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, killing several miners, officials said Monday. (BASARNAS via AP)

In this photo released by the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS), an injured victim of a landslide is cared for in Suwawa on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi early Monday, July 8, 2024. The landslide, triggered by torrential rains, hit an unauthorized gold mining operation on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, killing several miners, officials said Monday. (BASARNAS via AP)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Rescue workers dug through tons of mud and rubble Tuesday to search for dozens of missing people after a landslide rocked an unauthorized gold mining area on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, killing at least 23 people.

More than 100 villagers were digging for gold grains in the remote mountain village of Bone Bolango on Sunday when tons of mud tumbled down the surrounding hills, burying their makeshift camps, said Heriyanto, head of the provincial search and rescue office.


Rescue workers recovered more bodies on Tuesday in the destroyed hamlet where the gold mine is located.

“The better weather has enabled us to recover more bodies,” said Heriyanto, who, like many Indonesians, has only one name.

According to his office, 66 villagers managed to escape from the landslide, 23 were pulled out alive by rescue workers, including 18 with injuries. In addition, 23 bodies were recovered, including three women and a four-year-old boy. About 35 other people are missing, it said.

Abdul Muhari, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency, said torrential rains that have been hitting the mountain district since Saturday triggered the landslide and caused a dam to collapse, causing flooding up to the roofs of houses in five villages in Bone Bolango, part of a mountain district in Gorontalo province. Nearly 300 houses were affected and more than 1,000 people fled for safety.

Authorities deployed more than 200 rescue workers, including police and military personnel, with heavy equipment to search for dead and missing people. The rescue operation was complicated by heavy rains, unstable ground and rugged forest terrain, said Afifuddin Ilahude, a local rescue official.

“With many people missing and some remote areas still inaccessible, the death toll is likely to rise,” Ilahude said, adding that sniffer dogs would also be used in the search.

Videos from the National Search and Rescue Agency show rescue workers using agricultural equipment and their bare hands pulling a mud-encrusted body out of the thick mud and packing it into a black sack to be taken away for burial.

Monsoon rains often cause landslides and flash floods in Indonesia, an archipelago nation of more than 17,000 islands where millions of people live in mountainous areas or near flood plains.

Informal mining is widespread in Indonesia and provides precarious livelihoods for thousands of people working in conditions that put them at high risk of serious injury or death. Landslides, floods and tunnel collapses are just some of the dangers miners face. Highly toxic mercury and cyanide are often used in the processing of gold ore and workers often wear little or no protection.

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

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