JAKARTA (Reuters) – Rescuers searched for dozens missing in remote islands of southeast Indonesia and were braced for more casualties on Tuesday, as reinforcements arrived to help in the aftermath of a tropical cyclone that has killed at least 86 people.
Helicopters were deployed to aid the search and ships carrying food, clean water, blankets and medicine reached ports previously blocked by high waves whipped up by tropical cyclone Seroja, which brought heavy rain and triggered deadly floods and landslides on Sunday.
Indonesia’s disaster agency BNPB revised downwards the death toll from the cyclone in the East Nusa Tenggara islands, after earlier saying 128 had died.
Dozens of people on the Lembata island, one of the worst hit areas, are thought to be among at least 98 missing.
“The rescue team is moving on the ground. The weather is good,” BNPB spokesman Raditya Jati told a news briefing.
The military and volunteers arrived on the islands on Tuesday and were setting public kitchens, while medical workers were brought in.
Amateur video taken by a local official in Tanjung Batu village on Lembata, home to the Ile Lewotolok volcano, showed felled trees and large rocks of cold lava that had crushed homes after being dislodged by the cyclone.
Thousands of people have been displaced, nearly 2,000 buildings including a hospital impacted, and more than 100 homes heavily damaged by the cyclone.
There were also concerns about possible COVID-19 infections in crowded evacuation centres.
Indonesia rescue agency search for a body at an area affected by flash floods after heavy rains in East Flores, East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia, April 5, 2021. Basarnas/Handout via REUTERS
Aerial images from Adonara, another badly-hit island, on Tuesday showed brown mud and flood water covering a vast area, burying houses, roads and trees.
Two people died in nearby West Nusa Tenggara province.
(GRAPHIC: Floods triggered by tropical cyclone Seroja Floods triggered by tropical cyclone Seroja – )
In neighbouring country East Timor, at least 33 were killed in floods, landslides and by trees and civil defence authorities were using heavy equipment to search for survivors.
“The number of victims could still increase because many victims have not been found,” Main Director of Civil Protection, Ismael da Costa Babo, told Reuters.
“They were buried by landslides and carried away by floods.”
Some residents of Lembata island may have also been washed away by mud into the sea.
A volcano erupted on Lembata last month, wiping out vegetation atop the mountain, which allowed hardened lava to slide towards 300 houses when the cyclone struck, a senior district official said, hoping help was on the way.
“We were only able to search on the seashore, not in the deeper area, because of lack of equipment yesterday,” Thomas Ola Langoday told Reuters by phone.
He feared many bodies were still buried under large rocks.
President Joko Widodo urged his cabinet to speed up evacuation and relief efforts and restore power.
Weather agency head Dwikorita Karnawati said once-rare tropical cyclones were happening more often in Indonesia and climate change could be to blame.
“Seroja is the first time we’re seeing tremendous impact because it hit the land. It’s not common,” she said.
Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Stanley Widianto and Bernadette Christina Munthe in Jakarta and Nelson Da Cruz in Dili; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Martin Petty and Tom Hogue