At least 157 people have died and dozens more are still missing in the floods and landslides generated by tropical cyclone Seroja in Indonesia and East Timor, according to a new report announced Tuesday.
The Indonesian Center for Disaster Management reported 130 deaths in several islands near East Timor, where 27 deaths were also recorded. The previous death toll for the two countries was 113 dead.
In Indonesia, rescuers were struggling to find more than 70 missing people, sometimes using backhoes to remove debris accumulated during the cyclone’s passage.
The torrential rains of recent days have generated flash floods and landslides, sometimes destroying homes. More than 10,000 people have taken refuge in evacuation centers.
Thousands of homes, roads, bridges and hospitals have been damaged or destroyed. Lines of communication were covered with mud and uprooted trees, making it difficult for rescuers to reach the worst affected areas.
“We are still likely to see extreme weather in the coming days” because of the cyclone, said spokesman for the Indonesian disaster management agency Raditya Jati. Rescuers “are still trying to respond to the disaster, by organizing evacuations, searches, offering solutions to rehouse homeless people, distributing aid and trying to reach disaster areas.”
The storm is now advancing towards the west coast of Australia.
– Lack of surgeons –
Images from the eastern Flores area had shown rescuers removing bodies covered in mud before placing them in body bags.
In Lembata, an island located halfway between Flores and Timor, road access was cut off, forcing the authorities to deploy construction machinery to reopen the roads.
Some villages located on heights were partly swept towards the coast in landslides.
And the authorities on this island have said they feared to promote the spread of Covid-19 by regrouping the evacuees.
“These evacuees fled here with only wet clothes on their backs, and nothing else,” said deputy mayor of the area Thomas Ola Longaday. “They need blankets, pillows, mattresses and tents.”
The authorities already fear that the basic health facilities in the area will be totally overwhelmed.
“We don’t have enough anesthetists and surgeons but we were promised that reinforcements would come,” Longaday said. “Many people suffer from fractures after being struck by stones, pieces of wood or debris.”
Landslides and flash floods are common in the Indonesian archipelago, especially during the rainy season. But conservationists point out that deforestation favors these disasters.
In January, 40 Indonesians were killed in flooding in the city of Sumedang, in West Java.
The national disaster management agency estimates that 125 million Indonesians, or about half of the archipelago’s population, live in areas at risk of landslides.