Rescuers combed through debris and mud for victims of flash floods that inundated villages in Indonesia's East Java as the death toll rose to 57, officials said.

Thousands sought shelter, medical care and food on Tuesday in the wake of the disaster, which environmentalists have blamed on rampant illegal logging on the island of Java, one of the world's most densely-populated.

Local police officer Agus Ilham said the hunt for more victims after the floods, which swept away hundreds of homes in Jember district, 800 kilometres (500 miles) east of the capital, continued in poor weather.

Rescue efforts were also hampered by transport difficulties, he told AFP.

Erman Harjoprayitno, from the disaster coordinating agency in the city of Surabaya, said the toll stood at 57 dead and 50 injured.

"The injured have been taken to local clinics and hospitals," he said.

The floods followed two days of monsoon rains which caused a river to swell and burst its banks.

A local journalist, Budi Sugiharto, said the scene in the flooded zone was reminiscent of the December 2004 tsunami that devastated Indonesia's Aceh province on Sumatra island.

Some 168,000 Acehnese were killed in the catastrophe.

"The devastation in areas near the river banks reminds me of the destruction caused by the tsunami. Houses were flattened, with only the foundations remaining," he told AFP.

He said rescuers working only with hand tools had built emergency bridges to provide access to isolated areas in the hills and move villagers to safer areas. Children clung to soldiers as they were removed from the affected zones.

Teduh Tedjo, who coordinated the police relief team, said most survivors from isolated areas had been moved to shelter by late afternoon, bringing the number of refugees in schools, mosques and government buildings to 5,000.

"There is still a group of 19 villagers who are trapped. We are sending people to give them food," he said.

About 300 police and 100 soldiers were involved in the relief effort, he said.

More than 100 people in the isolated village of Kemiri were desperate for food, while hundreds of refugees at the Kemiri village hall were receiving medical treatment, the state Antara news agency reported.

"The condition is very worrying, especially among children," resident Salimah was quoted as saying.

Chalid Muhammad, chairman of prominent Indonesian environmental group Walhi, blamed deforestation for the tragedy.

"Floods on Java are closely linked to the worsening condition of forests on the island," he told AFP.

He said around half of the 3.1 million hectares (7.6 million acres) of forests on the densely-populated island of Java had been destroyed due to land conversion and illegal logging.

"Unless action is taken to address the problem, we can imagine what will happen to Java in the future. The government must make a breakthrough to save Java island, where 65 percent of Indonesia's population live," he said.

The Jember area and its surrounds are home to tobacco, coffee and tea plantations.

Severe flooding is not unusual during Indonesia's rainy season.

More than 200 people were killed in 2003 when flash floods tore through Bahorok, a popular riverside resort in North Sumatra, destroying more than 450 buildings.