Flooding, torrential rains slow rescue efforts as deadly cyclone lashes Southeast Asia

With at least 160 dead and dozens injured, rescuers in Indonesia and East Timor struggled with continuous rains caused by a tropical cyclone as they tried to cross damaged bridges and roads to search for survivors and begin repairs to the Southeast Asian archipelago.

Rescuers in Indonesia and East Timor continue search for survivors in flooded villages

People line up to cross a makeshift bridge in a village affected by floods on Adonara Island, East Flores, Indonesia, on Monday, April 5, 2021. (Rofinus Monteiro/The Associated Press)

Rescuers searched for survivors after torrential rains caused multiple disasters on remote eastern Indonesian islands, as well as in East Timor, killing at least 160 in the Southeast Asian nations.

At least 133 people died and dozens were missing in Indonesia, and 27 deaths were reported in East Timor. A tropical cyclone causing the damage is expected to continue affecting the Southeast Asian nations for days while moving south toward Australia.

Mud tumbled down from surrounding hills onto dozens of homes in Lamenele village shortly after midnight Sunday on Adonara island in East Nusa Tenggara province. Rescuers recovered 49 bodies and 28 people were seriously injured, East Nusa Tenggara Vice Governor Josef Nae Soi said at a joint news conference late Monday.

People wade through flood waters in Dili, East Timor, on Monday. (Kandhi Barnez/The Associated Press)

Bodies, homes swept away

Flash floods killed at least 84 people elsewhere and 71 were still missing in the province, local leaders said at the virtual news conference.

Severe flooding also was reported in Bima, a town in the neighbouring province of West Nusa Tenggara, killing two people and submerging nearly 10,000 houses.

Relief efforts were hampered by power outages, blocked roads covered in thick mud and debris, as well as the remoteness of the area on an island that can only be reached by sea and is now surrounded by high waves, said Raditya Jati, spokesperson of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

The bodies of 13 people were recovered after floods in Alor district destroyed dozens of houses, Soi said. Hundreds of people fled submerged homes, some of which were swept away by the floodwaters.

People walk amid debris caused by flooding in a village in Ile Ape, on Lembata Island, East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia, on Sunday. (Rick Wawo/The Associated Press)

In another district, Ende, two people were killed after overnight rains caused rivers to burst their banks, sending muddy water into large areas of East Flores district, Soi said.

The rains also caused solidified lava to tumble down the slopes of Ili Lewotolok volcano and hit several villages.

That disaster on Lembata island killed at least 67 people buried under tons of solid lava, Lembata district chief Eliaser Yentji Sunur said at the same news conference. The lava was left after the volcano erupted in November.

Hundreds of people were involved in the rescue efforts on Monday.

Residents inspect a road damaged by flooding in Dili, East Timor, on Monday. (Kandhi Barnez/The Associated Press)

Bridges, roads damaged

Ten districts and the provincial capital of Kupang were affected by flash floods and a landslide that damaged five bridges and several public facilities in East Nusa Tenggara province, Jati said.

He said more than 950 houses were damaged, including dozens that were flattened or swept away by floods and mud, forcing 2,655 people to flee to government shelters.

President Joko Widodo said he ordered his cabinet ministers and the chiefs of the military, police and disaster agency to carry out emergency response measures as quickly as possible.

"I can feel the grief of our brothers and sisters there caused by these disasters," Widodo said in a televised address, offering deep condolences to the victims.

In East Timor, 13 people were killed in the capital, Dili, and at least 14 bodies were recovered elsewhere in the tiny nation as rains caused landslides and dams to overflow.

Death toll could rise

"We are still searching for the areas impacted by the natural disasters" and the toll could rise, said Joaquim José Gusmão dos Reis Martins, the nation's secretary of state for civil protection. 

East Timor President Francisco Guterres Lu Olo offered his condolences to the victims and asked government officials to co-ordinate the response.

People inspect buildings damaged by a flood in Dili on Monday. (Kandhi Barnez/The Associated Press)

At least eight people were reportedly still missing and about 8,000 displaced people were evacuated to temporary shelters run by the country's Red Cross, said government spokesperson Fidelis Leite Magalhaes. He urged shops and markets to immediately reopen and people to return to their normal activities.

Tropical Cyclone Seroja has produced high waves, strong winds and heavy rains for the past three days and its effects are expected to last until Friday, said Dwikorita Karnawati, head of Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysical Agency.

She warned that the cyclone could trigger waves up to four metres on Sumba, Flores and Rote islands in East Nusa Tenggara province and up to six metres in the southern part of the province and in the Banda Sea and Indian Ocean.

Authorities were still collecting information about the full scale of casualties and damage in the affected areas, Jati said.

Seasonal rains frequently cause flooding and landslides in Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands where millions of people live in mountainous areas or near fertile flood plains.

In this image made from video, soldiers and police officers help residents cross a flooded road in Malaka Tengah, East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia, on Monday. (The Associated Press)

Australian forecasters have warned residents in Western Australia state's far north that the tropical cyclone was intensifying and moving toward them.

Seroja, which means "lotus flower," formed early Monday morning in Indonesian waters and was moving southwest, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said.

It's not expected to affect Australian communities for the next 48 hours, but residents were urged to monitor forecasts.