Landslides kill more than 40 in Indonesia

KUPANG, Indonesia, AFP

At least 40 people have been killed in landslides triggered by heavy rains on the eastern Indonesian island of Flores, and dozens more are still missing, officials said Saturday. Entire houses were washed away by flash floods, and authorities said rescue teams had still not been able to reach some of the affected areas.

Around 80 people were reported missing and presumed dead buried by landslides and washed away by flash floods. However, only 40 bodies were recovered as of Saturday evening.

“Of 73 people reported (missing), we have recovered 40 bodies. Four people were found alive and we are still searching for 29 more people,” district police chief Santoso Ginting said on MetroTV.

The injured were being treated in the local subdistrict health center. No further details were available on their condition.

“As of 6:45 p.m. (1045 GMT) evacuation efforts are still underway,” Johnny Erasmus from the disaster management coordination office here told AFP. He said search and rescue efforts will continue for the next seven days.

East Manggarai district head Christian Rotok earlier told AFP that local residents were themselves organizing relief efforts since access to affected areas was limited.

“The Ruteng-Cibal road will be totally impassable for the next one or two days, this means the district capital will be paralyzed,” Rotok later told ElShinta radio, adding that the road is the main distribution line especially for fuel.

He said people were taking refuge in churches since they have been “warned through local radio to move away from critical areas near the big river.”

He also said that many rice fields were destroyed by the landslides, which will lead to food shortages in the district in the near future.

Houses in two other districts were reported to have been washed away by flash floods that followed five days of heavy rain in the area.

Authorities are preparing to send food supplies to displaced people in the affected areas.

Erasmus pleaded for help from the central government and aid agencies for “body bags, rubber gloves, masks, gum boots and also mosquito nets for the refugees, medicines, kerosene lamps and tents.”

“We have sent staff to help … including sending 100 body bags,” Ministry of Health official Rustam Pakaya told state new agency Antara from Jakarta.

Telephone communication to the area has been almost entirely cut off since the landslides late Friday.

With phone lines down, search and rescue teams are instead having to rely on citizen band radio, with all information coordinated by the disaster management office in the provincial capital, Kupang.

“(Provincial authorities) have requested the police and military help with evacuation efforts,” he said, adding that work was being hampered by access problems.

Erasmus said bad weather had also prevented the delivery of some body bags to areas that had requested them.