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Dozens still missing in Indonesian floods, landslides

Associated Press - April 8, 2021

Ricko Wawo and Niniek Karmini, Lembata, Indonesia – Two Indonesian navy ships have arrived with aid and medical equipment in the east of the country, as the death toll from mudslides rose to 140 and rain continued to pound the region and hamper the search.

More than 70 people were listed as missing on Thursday.

Navy vessels are packed with food, including rice and noodles, and blankets for more than 20,000 evacuees, the Agence France-Presse reported. More are expected to arrive on Friday.

East Flores district on Adonara island suffered the highest losses with 67 bodies recovered by Wednesday night 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 – one of the most destructive storms to hit the region in years – sent solidified lava from a volcanic eruption in November to crash down on more than a dozen villages, killing at least 32 and leaving 35 unaccounted for, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

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

"Please find my father and mother who are still buried... whatever their condition," Suzanna Tasoin cried to rescuers struggling to dig up tons of volcanic materials and rocks with farm tools at Waimatan village on Lembata island, "We want to bury them with the respect they deserve."

In all, landslides and flooding have killed at least 140 across several islands in Indonesia.

In neighbouring Timor-Leste, the death toll from the storm rose to 42, with 10,000 people rendered homeless in the capital Dili, according to government figures cited by the Portuguese news agency Lusa. Hundreds of homes and buildings have been damaged, including 15 schools, and power blackouts continue in some areas.

Thousands of homes have been damaged and thousands of people displaced in Indonesia by the weather, which is expected to continue until at least Friday as the storm moves south toward Australia.

Rescue efforts were being hampered by the rains and the remoteness of the area, where roads and bridges were damaged in many places. Sniffers dogs were deployed to search for bodies among mountains of debris.

Rescue personnel with excavators and tonnes of food and medicine were being deployed from Makassar city on Sulawesi island, but were hindered by bad weather and extremely high waves.

Five helicopters were helping to reach isolated areas of the islands, National Disaster Mitigation Agency chief Doni Monardo told reporters.

He said evacuees were in dire need of basic necessities such as blankets, mats, tents, baby food and medical services.

The government provided tens of thousands of anti-coronavirus masks, and Monardo said authorities would set up health posts at refugee camps to test people for the virus.

He said six navy ships, including a hospital ship, carrying more goods were expected to arrive on Friday to relieve overwhelmed hospitals and clinics in East Nusa Tenggara, one of Indonesia's poorest provinces.

Fatal landslides and flash floods are common across the Indonesian archipelago during the rainy season, with deforestation often the cause, environmentalists say, the AFP reported.

An estimated 125 million Indonesians, nearly half of the country's population, live in areas at risk of landslides.

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/indonesia-landslides-death-toll-rises-dozens-missing-20210407-p57hcm.htm