Konradus Epa, Jakarta – Indonesian President Joko Widodo has promised to relocate and build new homes for victims of floods and landslides that struck Catholic-majority East Nusa Tenggara province this month, killing more than 170.
Widodo made the pledge during a visit to Lembata and Adonara islands, two of the worst-hit areas.
According to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, at least 72 people died in Adonara, while 47 died and 22 are still missing in Lembata.
Other deaths across the province brought the total to at least 177, according to the agency. More than 6,000 have been left homeless, the agency added.
"I have told local authorities to look for a safe location and relocate families living in the disaster-hit areas as soon as possible. The cost of rehousing them will be met by the national government," Widodo said.
He said he hoped new locations could be found within the month. The president also distributed more than 5,000 aid packages to victims on the two islands.
Meanwhile, Bishop Fransiskus Kopong Kung of Larantuka led an April Mass for victims in Nelelamadike, a village in Adonara where many people died in a mudslide that struck on April 4 – Easter Sunday.
Thanking Widodo for his visit, he also distributed aid supplies to victims including food and a generator. After the Mass, the prelate placed flowers on the graves of the victims.
Father Sinyo da Gomes, head of Lembata's episcopal vicariate, also thanked Widodo "The president's visit gave us much-needed moral support to us here in Lembata," Father Gomes told UCA News.
He said he backs the president's plan to relocate them as staying put would be dangerous. "As I understand it, three villages will be relocated," he said.
Father Lazarus Laga Koten, head of the Adonara episcopal vicariate, said people there would likely be relocated five kilometers from where disaster struck. "At least eight villages will have to relocate," he told UCA News.
Two villages in Adonara are still cut off because of damage caused to roads and bridges, he added.
Meanwhile, Father Marianus Dewantoro, head of the Church's social arm Caritas in Larantuka Diocese, said aid sent by Caritas Indonesia had arrived in Larantuka on April 10 and was being distributed to Lembata and Adonara as of April 11.
He said the diocese has established a coordination post at the Queen of the Rosary Cathedral in Larantuka and two public kitchens in Adonara.