More than 75 people have died and dozens more remain missing in floods and landslides in Indonesia and East Timor, local officials said on Monday.
Floods and flash floods caused by torrential rains have wreaked havoc in areas between Flores, Indonesia and East Timor, prompting thousands to seek shelter in reception centers. This deluge overflowed water reservoirs and flooded thousands of homes, while rescuers struggled to provide assistance to the victims.
“There are 55 dead, but this toll continues to evolve, especially as 42 people are still missing,” said MetroTV Raditya Djati, spokesperson for the Indonesian disaster management agency. At least 21 people have been killed in East Timor, according to a Timorese official. Most of the deaths took place in Dili, the capital.
In the east of the Indonesian island of Flores, many houses, roads and bridges were covered with mud, making it difficult for rescuers trying to reach the worst affected areas. “The mud and the weather are a big challenge, as well as the debris that is piling up and making it difficult to search,” said Raditya Djati.
“Need for medication”
Panicked residents flocked to reception centers while others remained near what was left of their homes. “The evacuees are scattered all over the place, there are hundreds of them in all the districts, but many people also stayed at home,” said Alfons Hada Bethan, head of the disaster management agency of Flores Oriental. “They need medicine, food, blankets.” The still strong precipitation also complicates the situation. “It is believed that many people are still buried, but it is not known how many,” he said.
In Lembata, an island located halfway between Flores and Timor, road access was cut off, forcing the authorities to deploy construction machinery to reopen the roads. Some villages located on heights were partly washed away towards the coast in landslides. Footage showed residents going barefoot, wading through mud to evacuate casualties on makeshift stretchers.
Landslides and flash floods are common in the Indonesian archipelago, especially during the rainy season. But conservationists point out that deforestation favors these disasters. In January, 40 Indonesians were killed in floods that hit the town of Sumedang, in West Java.
The national disaster management agency estimates that 125 million Indonesians, or about half of the archipelago’s population, live in areas at risk of landslides.