More than 70 people have died after flash floods and landslides hit eastern Indonesia and neighboring Timor-Leste on Sunday, authorities said, with warnings that the death toll could rise further.
Torrential rains wreaked havoc and destruction on islands stretching from the island of Flores in Indonesia to Timor-Leste, a small nation east of the Indonesian archipelago.
The deluge and subsequent landslides caused the dams to overflow, submerging thousands of homes and leaving rescuers struggling to reach survivors trapped in the aftermath.
“There are 55 dead, but this number is very dynamic and will definitely change, while about 42 people are still missing,” Raditya Djati, the spokesperson for Indonesia’s disaster management agency, told MetroTV.
The mud flooded houses, bridges and roads in the municipality of East Flores, where rescuers struggled to reach a remote and severely affected area due to heavy rains and waves.
In Timor-Leste, 11 were killed by floods in the capital Dili, authorities said. “We are still looking for the areas affected by natural disasters,” said Joaquim José Gusmão dos Reis Martins, Secretary of State for Civil Protection of Timor-Leste.
The death toll and the number of injured victims could still rise, authorities warned.
The regent deputy of Flores del Este, Agustinus Payong Boli, estimated that there were 60 victims in his municipality.
“Most of them, 55 years old, are in the village of Lemanele. Many people died here because the town was hit by landslides and flash floods, ”he told Agence France-Presse, providing figures not yet confirmed by national authorities.
The Lemanele images showed submerged houses, debris covering entire roads, downed trees and damaged power lines.
On Lembata, an island halfway between Flores and Timor, parts of the affected villages were displaced down a mountainside and close to the coast, according to an AFP journalist at the scene. Local officials deployed heavy equipment to reopen roads that had been closed.
The injured victims have been evacuated to neighboring villages unaffected by the flash floods. Images from Lembata showed people walking barefoot through the mud, evacuating victims from collapsed houses on makeshift stretchers.
Separately on Sunday, two people were killed in major flooding in the city of Bima in neighboring West Nusa Tenggara province, according to the disaster agency.
Dams in four sub-districts also overflowed, submerging nearly 10,000 houses in Bima after a nine-hour downpour, Jati said.
Deadly landslides and flash floods are common throughout the Indonesian archipelago during the rainy season. In January, flash floods struck the Indonesian city of Sumedang in West Java, killing 40 people.
In September of last year, at least 11 people were killed in landslides in Borneo.
The country’s disaster agency has estimated that 125 million Indonesians, almost half of the country’s population, live in areas at risk of landslides.
Disasters are often caused by deforestation, according to environmentalists.