Asia-Pacific

More than 100 dead after floods and landslides destroy communities in Indonesia and Timor-Leste

Scores were killed and dozens went missing after floods and landslides battered communities across Indonesia and Timor-Leste. Source: BASARNAS

Floods have wreaked havoc and destruction on islands stretching from Flores in Indonesia to Timor-Leste, killing more than 100 people and sending thousands fleeing into shelters.

Tropical cyclone Seroja pounded Indonesia and East Timor Monday after torrential rains triggered floods and landslides that have killed at least 113 people and left dozens more missing.

Packing heavy winds and rain, the storm heaped more misery on the Southeast Asian nations after Sunday's disaster turned small communities into wastelands of mud, uprooted trees and forced thousands of people into shelters.

Downpours are expected over the next day as the storm triggers offshore waves as high as six metres, Indonesia's disaster agency said.

The cyclone, which was picking up strength as it moved towards the west coast of Australia, hampered efforts to reach trapped survivors.

At least 86 people have been killed in Indonesia, with another 71 missing, while 27 have died in East Timor, a tiny half-island nation of 1.3 million that lies between Indonesia and Australia.

Its capital Dili was inundated, with the front of its presidential palace transformed into a mud pit.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) was providing immediate support to Timor-Leste's government following the severe flooding on Monday.

Residents stand along the water's edge by damaged homes after heavy rains and strong winds lashed Timor-Leste's capital Dili on 4 April.
Residents stand along the water's edge by damaged homes after heavy rains and strong winds lashed Timor-Leste's capital Dili on 4 April.
AFP via Getty Images

In Indonesia's remote East Flores municipality, torrents of mud washed over homes, bridges and roads, while strong waves have prevented search teams from accessing the hardest-hit areas.

On Lembata, an island east of Flores, parts of some villages were swept down a mountainside and carried to the shore of the ocean.

Soon after flash floods began tearing into resident Basir Langoday's district in the early morning, he heard screams for help from a nearby home covered in rubble. 

"There were four of them inside. Three survived but the other one didn't make it," he told reporters. 

Mr Langoday and his friends scrambled to try and save the trapped man before he was crushed to death. 

"He said 'hurry, I can't hold on any longer," Mr Langoday added. 

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Juna Witak, another Lembata resident, joined his family at a local hospital where they wept over the corpse of his mother who was killed in a flash flood Sunday. Her body was found by the seashore.

"There was a rumbling sound and the floods swept away homes, everything," Mr Witak said.

'Medicine, food, blankets'

Indonesian President Joko Widodo expressed "deepest condolences" over the devastation in the southeast end of the archipelago. 

"I understand the deep sorrow suffered by our brothers and sisters because of this disaster," he said in a nationwide address.

Scared residents flocked to temporary shelters across the remote region or took refuge in what was left of their homes.

"The evacuees are spread out. There are hundreds in each sub district but many others are staying at home," said Alfons Hada Bethan, head of the East Flores disaster agency.

"They need medicine, food, blankets."

Some 2,500 people had been evacuated in East Timor, with several thousand more in Indonesia.

Debris is left behind in the town of Adonara in East Flores on 4 April, after flash floods and landslides swept eastern Indonesia and neighbouring Timor-Leste.
Debris is left behind in the town of Adonara in East Flores on 4 April, after flash floods and landslides swept eastern Indonesia and neighbouring Timor-Leste.
AFP via Getty Images

In Australia, Labor’s spokesman for international development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy, called for the federal government to respond to any requests for assistance and prepare to help with food shortages.

He said Timor-Leste’s national COVID-19 testing laboratory had been flooded.

"While they managed to salvage most of the equipment, I imagine there’ll be huge pressure on testing,” Mr Conroy told SBS News.

“We should think about whether we should scramble an Australian medical assistance team to Timor-Leste.”

A photo made available by East Adonara Police station shows the aftermath of a flash flood in Adonara, East Flores, Indonesia, on 4 April.
A photo made available by East Adonara Police station shows the aftermath of a flash flood in Adonara, East Flores, Indonesia, on 4 April.
AAP

A spokesperson for the DFAT said Australia was providing immediate support to the Timor-Leste Government, and emergency back-up power for the Timor-Leste Integrated COVID Crisis Centre.

DFAT also said it was ready to respond to further requests for assistance.

"Australia and NGO partners on the ground to whom we provide funding have given support to evacuation centres. We are supporting access to clean water for the centres through our existing development program," the spokesperson said in a statement.

‘It’s not clear how many are missing’

Pounding rains challenged efforts to find any survivors.

"We suspect many people are buried but it's not clear how many are missing," Mr Bethan said.

In Lembata, an island halfway between Flores and Timor, parts of some villages were swept down a mountainside by torrents of mud, ending up down on the shore of the ocean.

A photo made available by the East Flores regional Board for Disaster Management (BPBD) shows the  flood aftermath in Adonara, East Flores, Indonesia.
A photo made available by the East Flores regional Board for Disaster Management (BPBD) shows the flood aftermath in Adonara, East Flores, Indonesia.
BPBD

Earlier, road access had been cut off and local officials were forced to deploy heavy equipment to reopen the roads.

Images from Lembata showed barefoot locals wading through mud and past collapsed houses to evacuate victims on makeshift stretchers.

Fatal landslides and flash floods are common across the Southeast Asian 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 country's 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.

With additional reporting by Tys Occhiuzzi and Caroline Riches

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