Indonesia landslides death toll rises to 126, dozens missing

LEMBATA, INDONESIA (AP) — The death toll from mudslides in eastern Indonesia has risen to 126 with scores still missing, officials said yesterday, as rain continued to pound the region and hamper the search.

East Flores district on Adonara island suffered the highest losses with 67 bodies recovered so far and six missing. Mud tumbled down from surrounding hills early last Sunday, catching people at sleep. Some were swept away by flash floods after overnight rains caused rivers to burst their banks.

On nearby Lembata island, the downpour triggered by Tropical Cyclone Seroja sent solidified lava from a volcanic eruption last November to crash down on more than a dozen villages, killing at least 28 and leaving 44 unaccounted for, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

Hundreds of police, soldiers and residents dug through the debris with their bare hands, shovels and hoes searching for those buried. On Tuesday, relatives wailed as they watched rescuers pull out a mud-caked body, place it on a bamboo stretcher and take it away for burial.

In all, landslides and flooding have killed at least 126 across several islands in Indonesia as well as 27 people in neighboring East Timor. Thousands of homes have been damaged and thousands of people displaced by the weather, which is expected to continue until at least on Friday as the storm moves south toward Australia.

Indonesian men look for salvageable items amid debris and damaged boats following a storm at a port in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara province. PHOTO: AP

Rescue efforts were being hampered by the rains and the remoteness of the area, where roads and bridges were damaged in many places.

Rescue personnel with excavators and tons of food and medicine were being deployed from Makassar city on Sulawesi island, but were hindered by a lack of sea transportation. National Disaster Mitigation Agency Chief Doni Monardo called on the private sector to support relief efforts.

Three helicopters began reaching isolated areas of the islands on Tuesday, and President Joko Widodo held a Cabinet meeting in Jakarta to speed up the operation.