Flash floods kill at least 61 in Indonesia's Papua province

A damaged aircraft is seen at a silt-covered airstrip following flash floods in Sentani near the provincial capital of Jayapura, Indonesia's eastern Papua province, on March 17, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Flash floods and landslides triggered by torrential rain in Indonesia's easternmost province of Papua have killed at least 61 people, injured dozens and displaced more than 4,000, authorities said on Sunday (March 17).

A spokesman for the Papua Provincial Police Senior Commissioner Ahmad Kamal was quoted by Antara news agency as saying 61 people have died as of Sunday evening, with 43 injured and 69 others missing.

Mr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman of the national disaster agency, told a news briefing earlier that 58 people were killed.

A search for more victims was under way in the town of Sentani, which was hit by flash floods late on Saturday. Heavy rain caused landslides in the nearby provincial capital of Jayapura, killing seven there, Mr Sutopo said.

Soldiers pulled alive a 5-month old baby from under the rubble of his house and took him to hospital, Papua military spokesman Muhammad Aidi said.

The number of victims "will probably increase because the evacuation process is still taking place and not all affected areas have been reached," Mr Sutopo said.

About 4,150 people are sheltering in six evacuation centres, he said.

Hundreds of houses, three bridges and a Twin Otter airplane parked at the airport were damaged by the floods. The Sentani airport, the province's main transport hub, remained open.

TV footage showed mud and large logs on Sentani's main roads after floodwaters receded.

Disaster authorities have warned local governments of flash flood risks due to deforestation in the mountains surrounding the town, Mr Sutopo said, adding that in 2018 Jakarta sent seedlings intended for tree-planting.

"Forest destruction in the Cyclops mountains has increased for use as firewood and to turn the land into plantations," Mr Sutopo said.

"Since 2018 we have warned the Jayapura government to be careful of flash flood risks because of this deforestation," he added.

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