At least 15 people were killed and dozens are feared missing after torrential rains and landslides battered one of Indonesia’s outermost islands bordering the South China Sea, disaster officials said Monday.
Pictures provided by the national disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) showed mud and debris from the landslides had inundated houses near a cliff on the remote Serasan island.
Bits of metal tore off roofs and fallen trees were visible.
The remoteness of the village where the landslide struck in the Natuna region of Riau province, combined with poor weather and downed communication lines, complicated rescue efforts, according to officials.
“We’ve been updated that 50 people were missing, 15 dead people were evacuated,” Natuna Search and Rescue Agency’s head Abdul Rahman told AFP, revising an earlier toll.
Riau Islands Disaster Mitigation Agency’s spokesperson Junainah added that with the communication network in the affected area — between Borneo island and peninsular Malaysia — cut off, it was hard to get the latest information.
“The weather is unpredictable. The wind is strong and the waves are currently high,” said the official, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
Difficult to access
A 60-person search and rescue team departed for the disaster-hit area from Penagi port in Natuna Island in the afternoon, BNPB spokesperson Abdul Muhari said in a statement on Monday evening.
Muhari predicted that access to the far-flung island would be difficult.
“Normally it takes five hours by fast boat,” he said.
“Tomorrow, the national disaster mitigation agency will deploy a helicopter to speed up the logistics delivery process,” he told local television channel Kompas TV.
A main road in the village was also cut off because of the landslides, further hampering the evacuation process.
Indonesia is prone to landslides during the rainy season, aggravated in some places by deforestation, and prolonged torrential rain has caused flooding in different areas of the archipelago nation.
Experts say the country’s weather-related disasters are likely being made worse by climate change.
Floods further south in Banjar district, in the Indonesian part of Borneo, have inundated more than 17,000 houses and disrupted lives for a month.
Neighbouring Malaysia has also been hit with torrential rains and vast floods. At least four people have died and nearly 41,000 were evacuated last week in several states of the country.
In 2020, Indonesia’s capital Jakarta and nearby cities saw some of their deadliest floods in years after downpours triggered landslides.
At least 67 people died in that disaster.