Papuan Flood Toll at 83 as Mud Slows Rescue of 65 More Missing
Rescue workers evacuate bodies from the remote seaside town of Wasior, which is a scene of devastation after much of it was flattened by a wall of mud and debris during flash floods on Monday. (AFP Photo)
Jayapura. The death toll from a flash flood that swept the West Papua town of Wasior three days ago has risen to 83 and is expected to keep rising.
Priyadi Kardono, a spokesman for the Disaster Mitigation Coordinating Agency (BNPB), said rescuers were still combing the area, while 70 people had been taken to hospitals in Nabire and Manokwari districts.
Mud and debris rushed down a mountain on Monday, damaging hundreds of buildings and sweeping away bridges and roads, further isolating the area.
Derek Ampnir, the head of the West Papua Disaster Mitigation Agency said 65 people were still reported as missing.
He said rescuers’ access to the area was being hampered by mud and debris.
“There are a number of villages now under the mud that have not yet been reached, such as Sobei, Ondibai and Rotei,” Derek said.
A river was clogged with mud, meaning it could not be used to access villages along its bank. The local airport at Wasior district was also affected by the flood.
Lt. Col. Edward Sitorus, the Manokwari district military commander, said the Navy had evacuated 53 people from Wasior to Manokwari.
“Also, at 11 a.m. hundreds of people left Wasior bound for Manokwari on board the KM Nggapulu passenger ship,” Derek said.
Edward said those sent to Manokwari, were being treated at military hospitals as well as the general hospital. Manokwari lies 12 hours by boat from Wasior.
Eight tents had been set up at command headquarters in Manokwari to help provide medical and emergency facilities.
About 3,000 people have been displaced, according to Coordinating Minister of People’s Welfare Agung Laksono, and the government had promised to send more rescue and medics to the affected areas.
Residents are worried about more landslides as heavy rains continues to batter the area.
One Wasior resident being treated at the Manokwari general hospital said his wife and 3-month-old child were missing.
“My wife and my child have now not been found,” said Lapeni, who has multiple injuries including a broken leg after being hit by debris carried by the flood.
Lapeni said that after the waters came rolling in he was holding his wife and child but they became separated by a floating log.
Residents and rescue teams are continuing to comb the mud and debris for survivors.
Several bodies could be seen wedged under rocks and logs that were washed into the town from surrounding hillsides.
Some of the logs —felled by timber workers in nearby forests — were two meters wide and left a trail of destruction as they were swept through the town by the raging waters.
“Early on Monday there were sudden floods but on a small scale,” said Wilem Imburi, a 50-year-old resident. “But 30 minutes later I heard a kind of big thunder and I saw powerful waters coming from the mountain.
“There was chaos and people panicked and tried to run to safety,” he said.
Distraught father-of-two Mahmud, 36, said he had managed to hold on to his son but lost his 2-year-old daughter.
“I was holding my two kids when the waters came, but I didn’t have enough strength and lost grip of my daughter,” he said.
The flood dragged him and his 4-year-old son into the sea 500 meters from his home.
An Agence France-Presse reporter who reached the area, 240 kilometers southeast of Manokwari, said hundreds of homes had been destroyed.
“We are still searching for dozens of missing people,” Papua search and rescue official Mochamad Arifin said.
“The chance of survival for the missing people is slim.”
Experts fear such events will become more common in Indonesia due to a combination of climate change and deforestation, which can contribute to landslides and flash floods after seasonal downpours.
Indonesia’s climatology agency said most parts of the Southeast Asian archipelago had experienced torrential rains, strong winds, high waves and flooding because of extreme weather this year.
Additional reporting from Bilhuda Haryanto & AFP