Lembata, Indonesia – More than 75 people have died and dozens remain missing after flash floods and landslides hit Indonesia and neighboring East Timor, officials said on Monday, turning small communities into land waves of mud and uprooted trees. Caused by torrential rains, the flood and subsequent landslides sent thousands of people fleeing to shelters as dams overflowed and their homes were submerged. Mud and extreme weather conditions made it difficult for rescuers to reach trapped survivors. “There are 55 dead, but this number is very dynamic and will certainly change, while 42 people are still missing,” spokeswoman for Indonesian disaster management agency Raditya Jati told MetroTV. At least 21 people have also died in East Timor, an official from the small semi-island nation of 1.3 million people located between Indonesia and Australia said. Most of the deaths occurred in Dili, the flooded capital of Timor. In the remote municipality of East Flores, Indonesia, mud swept through homes, bridges and roads, while strong waves prevented search teams from accessing the hardest-hit areas. On Lembata, an island east of Flores, parts of some villages have been washed up the mountainside by torrents of mud and carried to the ocean shore. Shortly after flash floods began to ravage the Basir Langoday neighborhood in the early hours of the morning, he heard screams for help from a nearby house covered in rubble. “There were four inside. Three survived but the other did not succeed, ”he told reporters. Langoday and his friends rushed to try and save the trapped man before he was crushed to death. “He said ‘hurry up, I can’t hold it any longer,’ Langoday added.
‘Medicine, food, blankets’
Indonesian President Joko Widodo expressed his “deepest condolences” for the devastation. “I understand the deep sadness endured by our brothers and sisters because of this disaster,” he said in a national speech. Across the region, frightened residents flocked to temporary shelters or took refuge in what was left of their homes. “The evacuees are dispersed. There are hundreds of them in each sub-district, but many more stay at home, ”said Alfons Hada Bethan, head of the East Flores disaster relief agency. “They need medicine, food, blankets.” Some 2,500 people were evacuated in East Timor. Heavy rains strained efforts to find survivors. “We suspect that many people are buried, but it is not known how many are missing,” Bethan said. In Lembata, local officials were forced to deploy heavy equipment to reopen the roads. Images of the island showed barefoot residents wading through mud and past collapsed houses to evacuate victims on makeshift stretchers. Fatal landslides and flash floods are common in the Southeast Asian archipelago during the rainy season. In January, 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 in Borneo. The national disaster agency estimated that 125 million Indonesians – nearly half of the country’s population – live in areas at risk of landslides. Disasters are often caused by deforestation, according to environmentalists.
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