Death toll in Indonesia, East Timor catastrophic flood surges past 160 - GulfToday

Death toll in Indonesia, East Timor catastrophic flood surges past 160


Villagers carry the body of a victim after flash floods in Lembata, East Flores, on Monday. AFP

Gulf Today Report

Floods and landslides triggered by tropical cyclone Seroja in a cluster of islands in southeast Indonesia and East Timor have killed 160 people, with many still unaccounted for and thousands displaced, officials said on Tuesday.

Rescuers were searching for dozens of people still missing after floods and landslides swept away villages in Indonesia and East Timor.


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Torrential rains from Tropical Cyclone Seroja turned small communities into wastelands of mud, uprooted trees and sent around 10,000 people fleeing to shelters across the neighbouring Southeast Asian nations.

More than a dozen villages were affected by Sunday's landslide on Lembata island, which was triggered when torrential rains caused solidified lava from an eruption in November to tumble down the slopes of Ili Lewotolok volcano. At least 67 people have been confirmed dead, according to Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

Indonesia-Floods-1Residents inspect the damage at a village hit by flash flood in East Flores, Indonesia. AP

Hundreds of police, soldiers and residents dug through the debris with their bare hands, shovels and hoes searching for those buried, efforts that were being hindered by heavy rain. Relatives wailed as they watched rescuers pull out one mud-caked body, place it on a bamboo stretcher and take it away for burial.

Indonesia's disaster management agency said it had recorded 130 deaths in a cluster of remote islands near East Timor, where another 34 have been officially listed as dead since the disaster struck on Sunday.

Search and rescue teams in Indonesia were racing to find more than 70 people still missing and using diggers to clear mountains of debris.

Indonesia rescuers search at an area affected by flash floods after heavy rains in East Flores. Basarnas/Reuters

The storm swept buildings in some villages down a mountainside and to the shore of the ocean on Lembata island, where some small communities have been wiped off the map.

"This area will never be inhabited again," said Lembata district official Eliyaser Yentji Sunur, referring to a flattened part of Waimatan village.

"We won't let people live here. Like it or not, they'll have to relocate."

Waimatan resident Onesimus Sili said floods early Sunday destroyed his community before anyone knew what happening.

Indonesian soldiers use a tractor to help residents to cross a flooded road in Malaka Tengah on Monday. AP

"Around midnight, we heard a very loud rumbling sound and we thought it was a nearby volcano erupting," he told AFP.

"By the time we realised that it was a flash flood, the houses were already gone."

Authorities in both nations were scrambling to shelter evacuees while trying to prevent any spread of Covid-19.

On Tuesday, East Timor recorded its first virus death -- a 44-year-old woman -- since the pandemic broke out last year.

The tiny half-island nation of 1.3 million sandwiched between Indonesia and Australia, officially known as Timor-Leste, quickly shut down its borders to avoid a widespread outbreak that threatened to overwhelm its creaky health care system.


Soldiers assist residents to cross a flooded road in Malaka Tengah, Indonesia, on Monday. AP

But the disaster has heightened fears of a spike in cases as thousands cram into shelters across Timor's inundated capital Dili and elsewhere.

'Clothes on their back'

Local officials in Lembata were bracing for its meagre health facilities to be overwhelmed as the number of injured coming from isolated villages soars.

"These evacuees fled here with just wet clothes on their backs and nothing else," said the area's deputy mayor, Thomas Ola Longaday.

"They need blankets, pillows, mattresses and tents."

There was also a dire shortage of trained doctors.

"We don't have enough anaesthesiologists and surgeons, but we've been promised that help will come," Longaday said.

"Many survivors have broken bones because they were hit by rocks, logs and debris."

Nearby in East Flores municipality, torrents of mud washed over homes, bridges and roads.

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