Indonesia readies hospital ships for cyclone survivors

Adonara, Indonesia: Indonesia's navy readied hospital ships Wednesday to help treat injured survivors of a cyclone that has killed about 160 in the archipelago and neighboring East Timor, as fears grow over coronavirus outbreaks in cramped evacuation shelters.

Helicopters were also dropping food and other essentials into remote villages, while sniffer dogs were deployed to search for the dozens still missing after weekend floods and landslides devastated the Southeast Asian nations.

Torrential rains from Tropical Cyclone Seroja, one of the most destructive storms to hit the region in years, turned small communities into wastelands of mud and uprooted trees, sending thousands fleeing to shelters amid widespread power blackouts.

The storm swept buildings in some villages down a mountainside and to the shore of the ocean on Indonesia's Lembata island.

Dozens were killed on Adonara island, where Sugeng lost his 20-year-old daughter when a wall of water tore into his family's home. Her body was later found on a beach.

"She was trying to hold on to a cupboard but the current was so strong that she lost her grip," said the 60-year-old, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

"I'm devastated."

'Everything is gone'

The hospital ships were due to leave for the storm-hit region from Jakarta and Semarang, a city east of Indonesia's capital, said Raditya Jati, spokesman for the disaster agency.

He did not specify how many ships would be deployed.

The agency also said sniffer dogs would hunt through mountains of debris and rubble for the bodies of more than 70 still-missing victims -- and any survivors.

"It was very scary because we've only seen that kind of scene on TV before, but now we experienced it," mother-of-two Maria Herlina Tula said of the flooding.

"Our home is flooded and everything in it is gone."

More than 120 people have been listed as dead in a remote cluster of islands at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago.

Some three dozen people were killed in East Timor -- a tiny half-island nation of 1.3 million sandwiched between Indonesia and Australia that is officially known as Timor-Leste.

Timor authorities said 13 people are still missing, while more than 11,000 survivors have been evacuated.

Its capital Dili was inundated, with the front of its presidential palace transformed into a mud pit.

The cyclone was moving toward the west coast of Australia, where it could make landfall by early next week.

Virus fears

Rescuers have spent the past few days using diggers and shovels to extract mud-covered corpses from the debris.

Hospitals, bridges, and thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed by the storm.

Authorities in both countries were also battling to avoid Covid-19 outbreaks in crammed evacuation shelters.

Indonesia's disaster agency said it would distribute 500,000 rupiah ($35) to homeless families so they could secure rental accommodation instead of seeking refuge at makeshift shelters.

"This is to prevent the spread of Covid-19 infections," said disaster agency chief Doni Monardo.

"We must avoid crowds inside the tents."

A cargo plane was to leave Jakarta for the disaster-struck region with about 100,000 face masks, virus test kits as well as prepared food and blankets for survivors, Monardo added.

Fatal landslides and flash floods are common across the Indonesian archipelago during the rainy season, with deforestation often the cause, environmentalists say.

The disaster agency has estimated that 125 million Indonesians -- nearly half of the country's population -- live in areas at risk of landslides.

Flood-Horror in Indonesia

Homeless, injured, and with his daughter dead, Sugeng stares blankly as he comes to grips with the devastation left by floods and landslides on Indonesia's Adonara island.

The 60-year-old was asleep with his family on Sunday night as torrential rain battered the community at the eastern end of the vast archipelago nation.

In seconds, their lives changed forever.

"Suddenly we heard people scream 'flood!'" said Sugeng, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

He and his wife fled their home, but their 20-year-old daughter Indri did not make it out alive and her body was later found on a beach.

"She was trying to hold on to a cupboard but the current was so strong that she lost her grip," Sugeng said.

"We buried my daughter yesterday... I'm devastated."

Adonara Island, home to about 125,000 people, was among the areas hardest hit by the floods and landslides that killed more than 150 in Indonesia and neighboring East Timor.

The disaster was triggered by heavy rain and wind from one of the region's most destructive cyclones in years, which ripped across a cluster of islands in the neighboring Southeast Asian nations.

Far-flung Adonara, dotted with beaches and a volcano, is accessible only by boat. It has no local hospital.

More than 50 residents were killed and a dozen were still missing on Wednesday.

'Thundering noise'

Indonesia's disaster agency said it is trying to airlift the injured in helicopters to a city and provide shelter for those left homeless.

Among the evacuees was Elisabet Lena Huki, 61, who took refuge at a local government office with her husband, elderly parents, children, and grandchildren.

She was coming back from an Easter mass on the predominantly Catholic island when tragedy struck.

"We had rushed home from church because my elderly parents were there," she said.

"Suddenly I heard a thundering noise... and I screamed to my sleeping husband that there was a flood."

Her neighbors sobbed in fear as chaos struck, while Huki's family searched frantically around their waterlogged home for her nephew Yeremias.

"He's still missing," she sobbed, remembering the 33-year-old she thinks of as a son.

"I want him to be found, even if it's just his body... so we can lay him to rest and visit his grave. That's my only hope now."

With just the clothes on their backs, Huki and her extended family also have to think about their own survival in the weeks ahead.

"I need diapers for my elderly parents but the stores are closed," she said.

"We're all exhausted and weary. I'm not thinking about wealth and possessions right now -- I just want my family to have shelter."

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