Race to find dozens missing in Indonesia, Timor-Leste floods

Rescuers searching for victims under the debris in a village in East Flores, Indonesia, yesterday after a flash flood hit the region on Sunday. Torrential rains from Tropical Cyclone Seroja caused floods and landslides that swept away villages in Ind
Rescuers searching for victims under the debris in a village in East Flores, Indonesia, yesterday after a flash flood hit the region on Sunday. Torrential rains from Tropical Cyclone Seroja caused floods and landslides that swept away villages in Indonesia and Timor-Leste, killing at least 120 people and leaving thousands homeless.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LEMBATA (Indonesia) • Rescuers were searching for dozens of people still missing yesterday after floods and landslides swept away villages in Indonesia and Timor-Leste, killing at least 120 people and leaving thousands homeless.

Torrential rains from Tropical Cyclone Seroja turned small communities into wastelands of mud, uprooted trees and sent around 10,000 people fleeing to shelters across the neighbouring South-east Asian nations.

Indonesia's disaster management agency said it recorded 86 deaths in a cluster of remote islands near Timor-Leste, where another 34 have been officially listed as dead since the disaster struck on Sunday. Authorities revised down a higher death toll for Indonesia, citing miscommunication with local agencies.

But search-and-rescue teams were racing to find the over 100 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, where some small communities have been wiped off the map.

"This area will never be inhabited again," said Lembata district official Eliyaser Yentji Sunur, referring to a part of Waimatan village. "We won't let people live here. Like it or not, they'll have to relocate."

Waimatan resident Onesimus Sili said floods early on Sunday destroyed his community before anyone knew what was happening.

"Around midnight, we heard a very loud rumbling sound and we thought it was a nearby volcano erupting," he said. "By the time we realised that it was a flash flood, the houses were already gone."

The authorities in both nations are scrambling to shelter evacuees while trying to prevent any spread of Covid-19.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2021, with the headline 'Race to find dozens missing in Indonesia, Timor-Leste floods'. Subscribe