LEMBATA, Indonesia (AP) — Rescuers in remote eastern Indonesia were digging through the debris of a landslide Tuesday in search of as many as 21 people believed to be buried in one of several disasters brought on by severe weather in the Southeast Asian nation and neighboring East Timor.
More than a dozen villages were affected by Sunday’s landslide on Lembata island, which was triggered when torrential rains caused solidified lava from an eruption in November to tumble down the slopes of Ili Lewotolok volcano. At least 67 people have been confirmed dead, according to Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency.
Hundreds of police, soldiers and residents dug through the debris with their bare hands, shovels and hoes searching for those buried, efforts that were being hindered by heavy rain. Relatives wailed as they watched rescuers pull out one mud-caked body, place it on a bamboo stretcher and take it away for burial.
Landslides and flooding from heavy rains from a tropical cyclone have killed at least 128 people across several islands in Indonesia and 27 people in East Timor. Thousands of homes have been damaged and thousands of people displaced in the disasters, which could continue to worsen as the storm is expected to continue affecting the region for several days as it moves south toward Australia.
In addition to the dead, Indonesian disaster officials said at least 72 people were missing.
Rescue efforts were being hampered by the weather and the remoteness of the areas affected. Roads and bridges were damaged in many areas.
Rescue personnel with eight excavators and tons of food and medicine were planned to be deployed from Makassar city on Sulawesi island, but were being hindered by a lack of sea transportation to the remote islands, said the National Disaster Mitigation Agency chief Doni Monardo. He called on the private sector to support relief efforts in these remote areas.
Three helicopters began reaching isolated areas of the islands on Tuesday. More helicopters with police and soldiers were expected to come support distribution of aid and supplies, Monardo said.
Tropical Cyclone Seroja has produced high waves, strong winds and heavy rains for several and its effects are expected to last until Friday, said Dwikorita Karnawati, head of Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysical Agency.
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