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Tropical Cyclone Seroja: Rescuers hunt for survivors in Indonesia

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Helicopters were deployed to help search for survivors among the 72 people reported missing so far in the East Nusa Tenggara Islands, where tropical cyclone Seroja brought strong winds and heavy rains that caused floods and landslides.

An amateur video taken by a local official in Tanjung Batu village on Lembata Island, home to Mount Ile Lewotolok volcano, showed felled trees and large rocks of cold lava that had destroyed homes after being dispersed by the cyclone.

Authorities said the death toll could rise as rescue crews reach more isolated areas. Images from the region on Monday showed fallen trees, winding seas and wooden houses flattened by the storm and debris floating in flood muddy waters.

At least 8,424 people were displaced, nearly 2,000 buildings including an impacted hospital and more than 100 homes severely damaged by the cyclone, which had been moving over the Indian Ocean since Tuesday morning, headed for northern Australia.

Weather agency head Dwikorita Karnawati said once rare tropical cyclones are occurring more frequently in Indonesia and climate change could be to blame.

“Seroja is the first time we are seeing a tremendous impact because it hit the ground. It is not common,” she told a news conference.

People who were displaced by floods at a temporary shelter in East Lewoleba, on the island of Lembata, Indonesia, on April 6th.

In the western province of Nusa Tenggara, authorities on Monday said two had died, while in neighboring East Timor at least 27 had died.

Some residents of Lembata Island may have been washed away by the mud at sea. The deputy mayor hoped the help was far away.

“We were only able to check on the seashore, not in the deepest area, due to lack of equipment yesterday,” Thomas Ola told Langoday Reuters by telephone.

Lembata suffered a volcanic eruption last month, wiping out vegetation on top of the mountain, which allowed hardened lava to slide toward 300 homes when the cyclone hit, he said.

Houses damaged by major floods in Waiwearng Village, East Flores, Indonesia, April 5.

Langoday feared that many bodies were still buried under large rocks.

President Joko Widodo held a cabinet meeting Tuesday to expedite evacuation and relief efforts and restore energy.

“If we can not get there by road, I demand that we open the entrance quickly by sea as well as by air,” the president said, adding that extreme weather had hampered the delivery of aid.

Search and rescue agency chief Doni Monardo said Tuesday that aid was on the way from the military and volunteers.

Monardo said there were health concerns about the overcrowding of evacuation centers and that authorities would provide rapid COVID-19 testing equipment in a bid to prevent an explosion.

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