JEMBLUNG, INDONESIA - Torrential downpours triggered a landslide on Indonesia's main island of Java, killing at least 17 people and leaving nearly 100 others missing, with persistent rain hampering rescue efforts, officials said Saturday.

Hundreds of rescuers were digging with shovels through mud and rubble after the landslide buried scores of houses in Jemblung village in central Java late Friday, the national disaster agency said. The landslide swept down a hillside in the village, sparing only two houses, an AFP correspondent said.

‘The rescue team have found 17 bodies,’ the national disaster agency's spokesman, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, told AFP, adding that 11 others were badly injured and rescuers were searching for 91 people still missing. The disaster agency said that 200 rescuers and 500 volunteers had joined the search for the missing. Heavy excavation equipment was also imported into the area to speed up the rescue work, which had to be halted on Saturday afternoon as fresh downpours sparked fears of more landslides. Eyewitnesses said they heard a ‘thundering sound’ as the ground shook when the landslide came crashing down and buried the tiny village.  ‘I ran carrying my daughter to higher ground, and I was crying because I could hear people calling out for help from below,’ Bini, who like many Indonesians goes by one name said. Her husband and 14-year-old son are still missing.

‘It took just five minutes before soil and trees suddenly covered the village,’ another survivor, Harno, said. Rescue efforts have been slow because the ground was still unstable. Thousands of curios bystanders have also caused traffic jams, hampering operations. Bad phone signal in the area have made coordinating rescuing efforts difficult, officials added.

The search and rescue agency said that the operation would only resume once the rain stopped.  If the downpours persist, the search would resume early Sunday, it added. ‘We pray to God that we can still find survivors,’ the head of central Java search and rescue agency, Agus Haryono, told AFP. Landslides triggered by heavy rains and floods are common in tropical Indonesia during the rainy season. The national disaster agency estimates around half the country's 250 million population lives in areas prone to landslides. The vast Indonesian archipelago is one of the most natural-disaster-prone nations on Earth, and is also frequently hit by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Hampering the rescue effort was a lack of a telephone signal and earth-moving equipment in the isolated, rural area. ‘There was a roaring sound like thunder,’ Imam, who lives in a neighbouring village, told television. ‘Then I saw trees were flying and then the landslides. People here also panicked and fled.’

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, said 17 people had been killed, 15 rescued, 91 were missing and 423 people from the surrounding areas had been taken to temporary shelters. He said there was a history of similar disasters in the area.

Eleven of the 15 rescued were receiving hospital treatment, he said. A government agency official added that the rescue effort had been suspended as light faded and would resume on Sunday. Five of the dead were found in one car, television reported. It showed rescuers using bamboo stretchers to carry bodies away. ‘Jemblung village was the most affected,’ Nugroho said. ‘The challenge is that the evacuation route is also damaged by the landslide.’ A rescue team of about 400 people, which included police, military and local volunteers, used their bare hands and makeshift tools to search for people and clear the area. A second resident said there had been no warnings of the likelihood of a landslide.