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Indonesian rescuers search for victims under the debris after a flash flood hit a village in Adonara, East Nusa Tenggara province. Photo: EPA-EFE

Indonesia deploys helicopters in search for survivors after cyclone Seroja wreaks havoc

  • Landslides and flooding from heavy rains brought by tropical cyclone Seroja have killed at least 128 people across several islands in Indonesia
  • Helicopters were deployed to help the search for survivors among 72 reported missing in the East Nusa Tenggara islands
Rescuers searched for dozens of people missing in remote islands of southeast Indonesia on Tuesday while expecting more casualties in the aftermath of a tropical cyclone that has killed at least 128.

Helicopters were deployed to aid the search for survivors among 72 people reported missing so far in the East Nusa Tenggara islands, where tropical cyclone Seroja brought strong winds and heavy rains that triggered flash floods and landslides.

An amateur video taken by a local official in Tanjung Batu village on Lembata island, home to the Mount Ile Lewotolok volcano, showed felled trees and large rocks of cold lava that had crushed homes after being dislodged by the cyclone.

Authorities said the death toll could rise as rescuers reach more isolated areas. Images from the region on Monday showed downed trees, choppy seas and wooden homes flattened by the storm and debris floating in muddy floodwater.

Dozens killed in Indonesia, East Timor floods and landslides

At least 8,424 people were displaced, nearly 2,000 buildings including a hospital impacted, and more than 100 homes heavily damaged by the cyclone, which had moved over the Indian Ocean by Tuesday morning, headed towards northern Australia.

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 told a news conference.

In nearby West Nusa Tenggara province, authorities on Monday said two had died, while in neighbouring country East Timor at least 27 have died.


Flash floods and landslides kill more than 40 people in Indonesia and East Timor

Flash floods and landslides kill more than 40 people in Indonesia and East Timor

Some residents of Lembata island may have been washed away by mud into the sea. The deputy head of the district hoped 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 said.

Lembata suffered a volcano eruption last month, wiping out vegetation atop the mountain, which allowed hardened lava to slide towards 300 houses when the cyclone struck, he said.

Langoday feared many bodies were still buried under large rocks.

Indonesian soldiers use a tractor to help residents to cross a flooded road in Malaka Tengah, East Nusa Tenggara province. Photo: AP
President Joko Widodo held a cabinet meeting on Tuesday to speed up evacuation and relief efforts and the restoration of power.

“If we cannot reach there by road, I ask that we swiftly open the access by sea as well as by air,” the president said, adding that extreme weather had hampered aid distribution.

Search and rescue agency chief Doni Monardo on Tuesday said help was on the way from the military and volunteers.

Monardo said there were health concerns about evacuation centres getting overcrowded and that authorities would provide rapid Covid-19 testing kits to try to prevent an outbreak.