Wed, 13 Aug 2003

One missing in N. Sumatra flooding

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan, North Sumatra

Amid water shortages in many parts of the country that have caused widespread crop failure, flooding hit the North Sumatra town of Sibolga on Tuesday, with one person thought drowned and hundreds of others forced to flee their homes.

The victim was identified as Adolf Manalu, a 10-year-old elementary school pupil who fell into Aek Doras River. His body has not yet been found.

Some 400 families of Aek Muara Pinang village in South Sibolga subdistrict and Ake Panis village in Central Sibolga fled to higher ground.

However, many returned home on Tuesday evening after the floodwater receded.

The flood was triggered by three hours of heavy rain in Sibolga and surrounding areas, causing a number of rivers to overflow, including one in Aek Sihopo-ho in South Sibolga subdistrict and another in Aek Doras in North Sibolga subdistrict.

Floodwater was up to 1.5 meters deep in residential areas.

Meanwhile, heavy rain in Central Tapanuli regency -- adjacent to Sibolga -- caused a landslide in the mountainous area of Bonan Dolok, Sitahuis subdistrict. No injuries or casualties have been reported.

The landslide buried a section of the Sibolga-Taratung road, said Rudolf Sihotang, head of the Central Tapanuli civilian police unit.

"Residents and local officials are removing the soil from the affected area," he said.

Firman, who heads the Polonia Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMG) in the North Sumatra capital of Medan, said rain would continue to fall through to November and could cause floods.

Last week, Firman warned local residents of heavy rainfall accompanied by strong winds in several areas in the province starting this month.

North Sumatra Governor Tengku Rizal Nurdin said recently that 115,903 hectares in the province were prone to flooding.

He said the provincial administration had taken measures to control flooding on 63 percent, or 72,537 hectares, of the land.

The governor called on the public to increase neighborhood security and help with flood control in their areas.

Rizal acknowledged that large rivers in North Sumatra -- such as the Asahan, Silau, Batang Ayumi and Bilah rivers -- needed to be dredged to prevent them from overflowing during the rainy season.

"The length of rivers prone to overflowing is around 386.4 kilometers. So, if the rain is quite heavy, all the rivers could overflow and cause flooding in surrounding areas," he said.

The governor said floods and other disasters should be handled in an integrated manner, involving central and local administrations, non-governmental organizations, experts and businesspeople.

"We still hope to come up with a grand strategy to prevent floods," he said.