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Indonesia, East Timor flood death toll surges past 150

(Indonesia’s disaster management agency said it had recorded 130 deaths in a cluster of remote islands near East Timor, where another 27 have been officially listed as dead. Photo: AFP)

JAKARTA, (AFP):- Rescuers were searching for dozens of people still missing after floods and landslides swept away villages in Indonesia and East Timor, killing more than 150 people and leaving thousands more 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 Southeast Asian nations.

Indonesia’s disaster management agency said it had recorded 130 deaths in a cluster of remote islands near East Timor, where another 27 have been officially listed as dead.

Search and rescue teams in Indonesia were racing to find more than 70 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.

Authorities there said they were scrambling to shelter evacuees while trying to prevent any spread of Covid-19.

“These evacuees fled here with just wet clothes on their backs and nothing else,” said the area’s deputy mayor, Thomas Ola Longaday.

“They need blankets, pillows, mattresses and tents.”

The region was bracing for its meagre health facilities to be overwhelmed as the number of injured soared.

“We don’t have enough anaesthesiologists and surgeons, but we’ve been promised that help will come,” Longaday said.

“Many survivors have broken bones because they were hit by rocks, logs and debris.”

– ‘Extreme weather’ –

Nearby in East Flores municipality, torrents of mud washed over homes, bridges and roads.

Earlier images from Indonesia’s search and rescue agency showed workers digging up mud-covered corpses before placing them in body bags.

Hospitals, bridges and thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed by the storm, which is now moving toward the west coast of Australia.

“We could still see extreme weather (from the cyclone) for the next few days,” said national disaster agency spokesman Raditya Jati.

Authorities were still working to evacuate remote communities and provide shelter to those hit by the storm, he added.

Fatal landslides and flash floods are common across the Indonesian archipelago during the rainy season.

January saw flash floods hit the Indonesian town of Sumedang in West Java, killing 40 people.

And last September, at least 11 people were killed in landslides on Borneo.

The disaster agency has estimated that 125 million Indonesians — nearly half of the country’s population — live in areas at risk of landslides.

The disasters are often caused by deforestation, according to environmentalists.

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