Indonesia flood death toll hits 59, villages cut off
By Sigit Pamungkas
KEMIRI, Indonesia (Reuters) – Hundreds of rescue workers
and soldiers struggled to reach villages devastated by floods
and landslides in Indonesia’s East Java on Tuesday as the death
toll from the disaster climbed to at least 59.
Eddy Susilo, head of the Information Ministry branch in the
town of Jember, not far from the scene, said the bodies of 57
villagers had been found. Two rescue workers had also drowned
in swollen rivers on Tuesday, he added.
Heavy rains late on Sunday triggered the floods and
landslides at six hillside villages near Jember, around 800 km
(500 miles) east of Jakarta.
Most of the villagers lived on coffee plantations and
riverbanks where many trees had been felled, stripping the area
of natural protection from such a disaster.
A few villages were still cut off because of collapsed
bridges and landslides blocking access, said Muhammad Suryadi,
a member of the state disaster management agency.
“Thousands have sought refuge and more than 300 can’t get
out,” Suryadi said.
One survivor said he had fled with his baby to nearby woods
after surging water killed his wife and flattened his home.
They had not eaten since Sunday evening, he said, after
arriving in the village of Kemiri, where rescuers are based.
“I am depressed because I lost my wife and my house. The
only one left is my baby,” said Ratimin, 38.
His baby looked pale and virtually lifeless.
In Kemiri, around 100 soldiers have been salvaging fallen
trees to build emergency bridges to try to cross raging
waterways and reach those in need. One such makeshift overpass
has been able to support rescue efforts.
RAIN SLOWS EVACUATION
Mud was waist deep in some parts of Kemiri. An avalanche of
mud and dirty water had flattened most houses on the riverbank.
Besides the fast-flowing rivers, sporadic rains had slowed
evacuation efforts, rescue officials said.
Local media have warned there would be more fatalities if
the affected areas could not be reached soon.
Flooding and landslides are common in tropical Indonesia.
Many mudslides are caused by illegal logging or clearing
farmland that removes natural protection.
“How did the mud smash through if not because of the lack
of barriers?” Susilo told Reuters.
“Residents say if they don’t cut trees, others will. This
is what happens in the end. The forest looks thick from afar
but when you enter you can see chopped areas in the middle.”
One local politician blamed corporate coffee planters.
“Those who cut the trees are now watching the disaster on
television while villagers suffer,” said Suyoto, a member of
the East Java legislative council.
Separately, landslides killed two people in a hillside
village in Central Java, local media reported.
(Additional reporting by Heri Retnowati in Surabaya)