Indonesia and neighbouring Timor-Leste hit by tropical cyclone, floods and landslides; 157 killed, dozens missing
At least 157 people have been killed in Indonesia and neighbouring Timor-Leste, with dozens more still missing, after a tropical cyclone battered the southeast Asian nations, leaving thousands homeless, authorities said on Tuesday, 6 April 2021, as rain continued to pound the region and hamper the search. Torrential rains from Tropical Cyclone Seroja has turned small communities into wastelands of mud, uprooted trees and sent around 10 000 people fleeing to shelters across the neighbouring nations. Indonesia's disaster management agency said it had recorded 130 deaths in a cluster of remote islands near Timor-Leste, where another 27 have been officially listed as dead. Search and rescue teams in Indonesia were racing to find more than 70 people still missing and using diggers to clear mountains of debris. The storm swept buildings in some villages down a mountainside and to the shore of the ocean on Lembata Island.
East Flores district on Adonara Island suffered the highest losses with 67 bodies recovered so far and six missing. Mud tumbled down from surrounding hills early on Sunday, catching people at sleep. Some were swept away by flash floods after overnight rains caused rivers to burst their banks. On nearby Lembata island, the downpour triggered by Tropical Cyclone Seroja sent solidified lava from a volcanic eruption in November to crash down on more than a dozen villages, killing at least 28 and leaving 44 unaccounted for, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency. Rescue efforts were being hampered by the rains and the remoteness of the area, where roads and bridges were damaged in many places.
Rescue personnel with excavators and tons of food and medicine were being deployed from Makassar city on Sulawesi Island but were hindered by a lack of sea transportation. National Disaster Mitigation Agency chief Doni Monardo called on the private sector to support relief efforts.
Three helicopters began reaching isolated areas of the islands on Tuesday and President Joko Widodo held a Cabinet meeting in Jakarta to speed up the operation.
The disaster agency’s spokesperson Raditya Jati said three more helicopters with relief supplies and rescue personnel arrived Wednesday and a hospital ship carrying more goods was expected to arrive on Friday to relieve overwhelmed health clinics.
Authorities there said they were scrambling to shelter evacuees while trying to prevent any spread of COVID-19. "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." The region was bracing for its meagre health facilities to be overwhelmed as the number of injured soared. "We don't have enough anaesthesiologists and surgeons, but we've been promised that help will come," Deputy Mayor Longaday said. "Many survivors have broken bones because they were hit by rocks, logs and debris."
Hundreds of police, soldiers and residents dug through the debris with their bare hands, shovels and hoes searching for those buried. On Tuesday, relatives wailed as they watched rescuers pull out a mud-caked body, place it on a bamboo stretcher and took it away for burial.
In all, landslides and flooding have killed at least 126 across several islands in Indonesia as well as 27 people in neighbouring East Timor. Thousands of homes have been damaged and thousands of people displaced by the weather, which is expected to continue until at least Friday as the storm moves south toward Australia.
Sources: Associated Press, SBS News, BBC