Archive for Thursday, August 2, 2001

Hundreds feared missing after Indonesian landslides

August 2, 2001

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— More than 800 people were missing Wednesday after massive landslides and floods struck a remote Indonesian island, triggered by torrential rains.

Officials on Nias Island said at least 64 people had been confirmed dead, most from the devastated mountain village of Sambulu.

An additional 821 villagers were reported missing in three badly hit districts in the rugged interior of the island, 60 miles west of Sumatra.

Edy Sofyan, a spokesman for the North Sumatra provincial government in Medan, said 37 bodies had been recovered, but the death toll was expected to rise.

"We fear many more are dead either buried alive or swept away by floodwaters," he said.

The landslides and floods struck Tuesday after days of heavy rain, said a local government official, Abdurrahman Nasution.

He said rescue efforts were being hampered by blocked roads and swollen rivers. Telephone lines had been cut in many areas.

There was no immediate reaction to the disaster from President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who was elected head of state last week when the national assembly impeached and dismissed her predecessor, Abdurrahman Wahid.

A Nias police official, Lt. John Meliala, said there were hopes that many of the missing people might have taken shelter on high ground above flood waters.

The officials said more than 100 houses were destroyed and hundreds of other homes damaged in Sambulu. Villagers were searching through the mud and rubble for survivors.

Three earthquakes measuring between 5.3 and 5.4 magnitude were recorded near Nias island on Tuesday, but it was not clear whether the temblors contributed to the disaster.

Indonesia is in the middle of its annual dry season, but there has been an unusually large amount of rain in several parts of the country.

Hundreds of foreign tourists, mostly surfers, visit Nias every year because of the island's large waves and pristine beaches. The world's top wave riders descend on the island every June and July for international competitions.

Hotel workers in one of the island's most popular surfing spots, Teluk Lagundri, said about 50 foreigners, including Americans, were in the coastal region that was unaffected by the flooding.

The island with a population of about 600,000 has little infrastructure and many villages in the interior are inaccessible by road.

Getting emergency assistance to the victims is likely to be difficult. Nias is about 780 miles northwest of Jakarta. It has only a small airstrip and access by boat from the nearest port on Sumatra island takes at least eight hours.

Flooding and landslides kill hundreds of people in Indonesia every year. Officials and environmentalists say deforestation by loggers and villagers needing firewood contributes to the disasters.

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