Helicopters were deployed to help search for survivors among the 72 people reported missing so far in the eastern islands of Nusa Tenggara, where tropical cyclone Seroja brought strong winds and torrential rains that led to flash floods and landslides.
An amateur video taken by a local official in the village of Tanjung Batu on Lembata Island, home to the Mount Ile Lewotolok volcano, showed felled trees and large rocks of cold lava that had crushed houses after being dislodged by the cyclone.
Authorities said the death toll could rise as rescuers reach more isolated areas. Images from the region Monday showed downed trees, rough seas and storm-washed wooden houses and debris floating in the muddy water.
At least 8,424 people were displaced, almost 2,000 buildings, including a hospital, were affected and more than 100 homes severely damaged by the cyclone, which had moved over the Indian Ocean on Tuesday morning, was heading towards northern Australia. .
The director of the meteorological agency, Dwikorita Karnawati, said that tropical cyclones that were once rare were occurring more frequently in Indonesia and that climate change could be the culprit.
“Seroja is the first time we have seen a tremendous impact because it hit the ground. It is not common,” he told a news conference.
In nearby West Nusa Tenggara province, authorities said Monday that two had died, while in neighboring East Timor at least 27 were killed.
Some residents of the island of Lembata may have been swept into the sea by the mud. The deputy district director hoped help was on the way.
“We were only able to search the seashore, not the deepest area, due to a lack of equipment yesterday,” Thomas Ola Langoday told Reuters by phone.
Lembata suffered a volcanic eruption last month, which washed away vegetation at the top of the mountain, allowing hardened lava to slide toward 300 houses when the cyclone hit, he said.
Langoday feared that many bodies were still buried under large rocks.
President Joko Widodo held a cabinet meeting on Tuesday to accelerate evacuation and relief efforts and the restoration of power.
“If we cannot get there by road, I ask that we quickly open access both by sea and by air,” the president said, adding that extreme weather has hampered the distribution of aid.
The head of the search and rescue agency, Doni Monardo, said Tuesday that military aid and volunteers were on the way.
Monardo said there were health concerns about the overcrowding of evacuation centers and that authorities would provide rapid COVID-19 test kits to try to prevent an outbreak.