Caritas joins rescue efforts in Indonesia after cyclone disaster

Devastating floods and landslides triggered by cyclone Seroja, which struck a cluster of islands in south-east Indonesia and in Timor-Leste on Easter Sunday, have killed at least 120 people. Caritas and other agencies have swung into action to reach the survivors.

Apr 10, 2021

Indonesia rescue agency search for a body at an area affected by flash floods after heavy rains.


By Robin Gomes
Caritas Indonesia has joined the government, the United Nations and other agencies in reaching out to the affected people following the disaster caused by a cyclone in the southeast of the nation on Easter Sunday, April 4.

Rescuers were searching for dozens of people still missing on Tuesday after floods and landslides swept away villages in eastern Indonesia and the neighbouring Catholic-majority nation of Timor-Leste or East Timor.  At least 120 have been reported dead in the two countries with thousands displaced.  

Two days of torrential rains from tropical cyclone Seroja destroyed houses, public facilities, communications, roads and bridges, and turned villages and small communities into wastelands of mud, sending sent about 10,000 people fleeing to shelters across the two neighbouring Southeast Asian nations.

Indonesia's disaster management agency, BNPB, had earlier reported 128 dead and 72 missing.  However, on Tuesday, it revised down the death toll to 86 and raised the number of missing to 98.  The agency blamed the discrepancy on miscommunication with local agencies. 

BNPB said that with good weather, the military and volunteers arrived on the affected islands on Tuesday and were setting public kitchens, while medical workers were brought in.

The East Flores Disaster Mitigation Agency had reported 61 dead and 30 missing on Monday.  At least 61 people lost their lives and more than 30 were reported missing on Indonesia’s Adonara island in East Flores district.

Fr Thomas Labina from Larantuka Diocese in East Flores said hundreds of houses were buried in mudslides that hit three subdistricts. On nearby Lembata island, at least 85 people died and 11 were missing after cold lava flows from the Ile Lewotolok volcano eruption hit four subdistricts, the priest said.

In Adonara, electricity and transport links were cut in many areas, leaving the diocese unable to communicate with priests or laypeople and hampering efforts to distribute aid.  “We are trying to distribute aid to Adonara but continuing bad weather is making efforts extremely difficult,” said Fr Labina.

Caritas Indonesia, Karina, the country’s Catholic charity network, said it was working with several local offices in Atambua Diocese in Timor, Larantuka Diocese in Flores, Weetabula Diocese in Sumba and Kupang Archdiocese in Timor to distribute aid to victims.  Fr Fredy Rante Taruk, Caritas Indonesia’s executive director, said Kupang Archdiocese was sheltering more than 500 displaced people at St. Simon Petrus Church in Kupang. “We are coordinating with the archdiocese and other dioceses impacted by the disaster. Aid will be distributed as quickly as possible,” he said.

The Communion of Churches, Indonesia’s national ecumenical body in Indonesia, a member of the World Council of Churches (WCC), has called on all its members to help the victims.  “The PGI is encouraging all churches in Indonesia to support the emergency response and work with churches in East Nusa Tenggara province to help the victims, vulnerable groups and refugees,” Philip Situmorang, the group’s spokesman said in a statement.

In neighbouring East Timor, where at least 34 people are feared dead, United Nations agencies are supporting response efforts.  About 76 per cent of the affected people are in Dili, large parts of which are under water. Severe damage has also been reported to critical infrastructure, including roads, bridges and medical centres, while communication networks and electricity are said to be disrupted in some of the worst affected areas.

Roy Trivedy, UN Resident Coordinator in Timor-Leste said that UN agencies and partners are supporting the national response, adding that as an emergency response measure, they are extending full support to the people and the government of Timor-Leste “in this hour of need”.  “We are deeply concerned about the communities, especially women and children, who are often most affected by natural disasters. We will work with the authorities to mobilize all possible resources to support the response”, Trivedy added.

There are concerns that the disaster could hit Covid-19 prevention and response efforts, as the national medical storage facility was heavily flooded and many medical supplies damaged or washed away.––Vatican News

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