Jakarta – At least 117 people dead and thousands others were forced to evacuate from their homes after floods and landslides caused by the Seroja tropical cyclones hit eight districts in East Nusa Tenggara, one of Indonesia's poorest provinces.
Doni Monardo, the head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), said on Tuesday that 60 people died in East Flores, 28 in Lembata, 21 in Alor, and 2 in Sabu Raijua. Kupang city, Kupang districts, and Ende each reported one casualty, Doni said in a virtual teleconference on Tuesday.
There were 72 people were still missing, including 20 in Alor, 12 in East Flores, and 44 in Lembata.
The death toll was lower than the 128 death announced earlier this morning. Raditya Jati, the head of disaster data, information, and communication at BNPB, said in a separate press conference that the previous death number included those who were still missing. The agency has since corrected the data, he said.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has ordered the BNPB, the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas), the Indonesian military (TNI), and the national police to mobilize their personnel to the province.
"What I want to emphasize is the acceleration of evacuation, search, and rescue of undiscovered victims including in isolated areas and islands in East Nusa Tenggara," Jokowi said in a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning.
The evacuation process has proved difficult so far, with locals relying on their own efforts as rescuers from outside barely reaching the affected areas.
The hardest-hit districts are located on separate islands. Damaged roads and bridges, combined with extreme weather due to the Seroja tropical cyclone, further isolate the regions from outside help, Doni Monardo, the head of BNPB, said on Monday.
"The search, rescue, and mitigation efforts will depend on the weather," Doni said.
"For illustration, Larantuka [East Flores' capital] is separated by a channel from Adonara island," Doni said, referring to the Island in East Timor where landslide and flash floods destroyed at least three villages.
"When the weather does not allow, all activities must stop," Doni said.
The Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said the Seroja tropical cyclone is moving away from the Sawu Sea, where it was formed in the first place, toward the southwest.
"Until April 7, many sub-districts [in East Nusa Tenggara] should expect heavy rains throughout the day," Dwikorita Karnawati, BMKG head, said on Monday. The heavy rain would fall mostly fall on Sumba and Timor islands, she said.
East Flores, Alor, and Lembata would also experience rain at medium intensity. "At the 6th and 7th [of April] morning, we should on alert of the rain there, but then in the afternoon, the weather should get better as the cyclone is getting farther away," Dwikorita said.
The BNPB control center (Pusdalops) recorded that at least 8,424 people were forced to leave their homes and stay at evacuation centers in five districts across the province. Those include 7,212 refugees in East Sumba, 958 in Lembata, 672 in Rote Ndao, 284 in West Sumba, and 256 in East Flores, the agency data showed.
The agency expected the number should increase as reports from other districts have yet to come through.
Doni said the number of refugees had stoked concern about the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in the province. BNPB's experience with the West Sulawesi earthquake and the South Kalimantan flood in January showed that refugee camps bear high risks for spreading the disease.
Doni said that the local government should separate the young from the older people in different refugee centers to minimize the risk of Covid-19 spreading.
Volunteers from other regions also must ensure that they were free of the Covid-19 virus before coming to the province, Doni said.
East Nusa Tenggara is one of the country's poorest provinces. More than 21 percent of its 5.3 million population live with less than $28 per month, the latest data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) showed.
BNPB said the tropical cyclone had damaged homes and infrastructures in Kupang, East Flores, Malaka, Lembata, Ngada, West Sumba, East Sumba, Rote Ndao, and Alor.
Doni said the government would allocate up to Rp 50 million ($3,450) to each victim who lost their homes. He said the local government would also be responsible for relocating residents from the devastated region to a new area that is less risky. "We must build back better," Doni said.