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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 March 2019

Indonesia floods: At least 58 dead in Papua

The floods in Sentani, near the provincial capital of Jayapura, were triggered by torrential rain and subsequent landslides

A handout made available by Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) shows residents gathering at a temporary shelter as flash flood affect the area in Sentani, near Jayapura, Papua province, Indonesia, 17 March 2019. EPA
A handout made available by Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) shows residents gathering at a temporary shelter as flash flood affect the area in Sentani, near Jayapura, Papua province, Indonesia, 17 March 2019. EPA

Flash floods in Indonesia's eastern Papua province have killed at least 58 people, an official said on Sunday as rescuers battled mud, rocks and fallen trees in the hunt for survivors.

The death toll was expected to rise as emergency services struggled to reach people in hard-hit areas, with more than 70 people injured and 4,150 evacuated.

Separately, landslides triggered by two moderate earthquakes killed two people on the Indonesian island of Lombok on Sunday. They were among a group of about 40 Malaysian and domestic tourists visiting a popular waterfall in the north of the island. A local disaster agency official said three other members of the group had been rescued but the rest were trapped at the site.

The floods in Papua were triggered by torrential rain and landslides on Saturday and damaged numerous homes in the north-eastern town of Sentani, said national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

"The number of casualties and impact of the disaster will likely increase as search and rescue teams are still trying to reach other affected areas," he said.

The waters had receded but officials were still trying to evacuate people from areas obstructed by "fallen trees, rocks, mud and other material", Mr Nugroho said.

In Doyo, one of the worst-affected areas, a housing complex was littered with huge rocks believed to have rolled down from a nearby mountain. Sediment and waste swept by the floods piled up on the pavement.

The non-stop wail of ambulance sirens could be heard, as heavy equipment was used to clear the roads.

The government has announced a 14-day state of emergency, said Victor Dean Mackbon, police chief in the provincial capital of Jayapura.

Officers rescued a five-month-old baby who was trapped for hours under the rubble, Papua military spokesman Muhammad Aidi said. The whereabouts of the parents are unknown.

A propeller plane lay partly crushed on a runway at the airport in Jayapura.

"The rain started last night and went on until around 1am this morning," said Lilis Puji Hastuti, a 29-year-old mother of two young children in Sentani.

"Our house was flooded with thick mud ... we immediately grabbed our valuables and ran to a neighbour's [two-storey] house to seek refuge.

"It's hard to get out of the area because many roads are blocked. I'm worried, sad and scared all at once," she said.

Papua shares a border with independent Papua New Guinea on an island just north of Australia.

Mr Nugroho said local authorities in Jayapura had been warned about the risk of flash floods because of deforestation in the surrounding mountains.

"Forest destruction in the Cyclops mountains have increased for use as firewood and to turn the land into plantations," he said.

Flooding is common in Indonesia, especially during the rainy season from October to April.

In January, floods and landslides killed at least 70 people on Sulawesi island, while earlier this month hundreds in West Java province were forced to evacuate when torrential rains triggered severe flooding.

The South-East Asian archipelago of some 17,000 islands is one of the most disaster-prone nations on Earth, straddling the Pacific Ring of Fire, where tectonic plates collide. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are common.

In December, the western part of Java island was slammed by a deadly volcano-triggered tsunami that killed about 400 people.

Also last year, the city of Palu in Sulawesi was rocked by a quake-tsunami disaster that killed thousands, while hundreds of others died in a series of quakes that hit the holiday island of Lombok, next to Bali.

Updated: March 17, 2019 04:46 PM

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