Thu, 03 Apr 2003

39 dead following heavy rain in Kupang

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara

Major floods and landslides in Ende and East Flores regencies, East Nusa Tenggara, had claimed 39 lives as of Wednesday, while several other people were reported missing following the heavy rain that had been drenching the area since Monday.

Thousands of hectares of rice fields and plantations, several hundred houses, three bridges and dozens of cars and motorcycles were damaged or washed away by the floods.

The rain also flooded the towns of Ende and Larantuka in East Flores, resulting in several school buildings and government offices being shut.

Piet A. Tallo, the governor of East Nusa Tenggara told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday that thousands of people were being evacuated to avoid an even greater number of casualties.

"According to our estimates, some 31 people died in Ende and in Larantuka. This does not include the number of missing people.

"Hundreds of houses, public facilities, bridges, schools and prayer houses were damaged during the floods. The floods also cut road links between Ende and East Flores," he said.

More fatalities are expected as search and rescue teams and security officers attempt to search for, rescue and evacuate the victims and missing persons.

"The weather at the moment in Ende and East Flores is horrendous with the rain continuing to fall, making it difficult to continue the evacuation process," said Tallo.

According to Tallo, the areas that had suffered the most from the heavy rains were the districts of Ende, Detusoko, Ndona, Nangapada, Maurole, Wolowaru and South Ende -- all in Ende regency.

"Topographically, Ende is a hilly area prone to major floods and landslides," Tallo said.

The local government has thus far built shelters to accommodate people from the area. Food, medical treatment and clean water are also being provided.

Heavy machinery is currently being sent to the area to help clear the roads that have been affected by landslides.

Separately, Anton T Matutina, chief of information and communications for the East Flores administration, said that the floodwaters in several areas had reached five meters high.

The persistent rain caused major floods on Monday, with the three districts of Larantuka, Lohayong and Posto -- all in East Flores -- being submerged.

Meanwhile, Hendry Surbakti, chief of the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency said that the heavy rains were caused by a low pressure area over Ende and East Flores. It had later moved southwest toward the Indian ocean.

He added that there had been a low pressure area over East Nusa Tenggara since Sunday. The depression was located over the Ombay Strait, between the islands of Alor and Timor. As a result, the area had been hit by heavy rainstorms with wind speeds of about 10 knots per hour, which had caused the sea level to rise by about 1.5 meters.