Indonesia resumes search for 35 missing after deadly landslide

JAKARTA (Reuters) -Indonesia deployed a helicopter and hundreds of rescuers on Tuesday as it resumed a search for 35 people still missing after a landslide at an illegal gold mine on the island of Sulawesi killed at least 23, the search and rescue agency said.

Torrential rain triggered Sunday's disaster, which engulfed miners and residents in the district of Suwawa in Gorontalo province, more than 2,000 km (1,200 miles) east of Jakarta, the capital.

Nearly 400 people assisted by a helicopter were involved in Tuesday's rescue effort, restarted after heavy rain temporarily halted operations on Monday, said search agency official Salama, who uses one name.

So far 66 survivors have been plucked from the debris, although efforts were being hampered by thick mud with some rescuers having to walk more than 20 km (12 miles) to reach the disaster site, he said by telephone.

Nopri, a miner, told news channel MetroTV that he spent about eight hours buried under about a metre (3 feet) of debris before he got out.

He and his companions survived by breathing air flowing in through gaps in the debris, and had some water left to fend off thirst, but they had been forced to wait for rescue, he added.

"When we tried to get out, dirt fell back again," he said. "So we were resigned, we just waited for help."

Landslides are frequent in Indonesia, with the risk often increased by deforestation and small-scale illegal mining operations in remote districts that are difficult for authorities to regulate.

Earlier on Tuesday, the death toll stood at 17, with 45 missing.

In May, flash floods and mudslides killed more than 50 people in the province of West Sumatra, following heavy rain.

In April, a landslide after high-intensity rains in South Sulawesi killed 18 people.

(Reporting by Ananda Teresia; Editing by Ed Davies and Clarence Fernandez)