Rescuers struggle to reach Indonesian flood victims

Indonesian troops and rescue workers were on Wednesday struggling to deliver food supplies to thousands of people stranded for at least five days by floods that have claimed 115 lives.

Torrential rains last week triggered flash floods and landslides that have forced more than 400 000 people to flee their homes on the island of Sumatra, with Aceh and North Sumatra provinces the worst hit.

Tons of food, water, tents and medical supplies have been trucked and flown into the main cities and towns in the affected areas.

Relief supplies were sufficient but transporting them to stranded villagers who were running short of food was proving difficult, officials said in the worst-hit district of Aceh Tamiyang.

“We have enough rice and other food supplies in Kuala Simpang, but distributing it to the most needy areas is still difficult,” district official Marzuki said.

About 1 000 troops and six helicopters have also joined the rescue effort. People in some isolated areas were forced to live off betel nuts as they had run out of rice, according to residents of nearby villages.

A military helicopter dropped rice and instant noodles to people in the cut-off village of Simpang Jernih in neighbouring East Aceh district on Wednesday morning.

“We will drop this food for the people in East Aceh,” East Aceh military commander Lieutenant Colonel Heri Safari said on the helicopter.

Whole villages have been swallowed by flood waters, with residents escaping to find refuge on higher ground or trapped on the roofs of their houses.

More than 400 000 people fled the floods, with 367 752 people displaced in Aceh alone, the Kompas daily reported.

In Aceh Tamiang district, nearly the whole population of 239 000 was evacuated, according to official figures, while 44 people were killed and 200 are still missing.

“Today [Wednesday] we will focus our efforts on finding the missing people. We don’t know if they are killed or taking refuge without reporting,” Marzuki said.

About 30 Indonesian Red Cross workers and other volunteers from an amateur citizen’s band radio club were searching downstream in the worst-hit areas of the district.

Volunteers in rubber dinghies and other boats have been rescuing people from the roofs of their homes and flooded schools and transporting medical supplies.

Water levels appeared to have generally dropped in Aceh Tamiang but remained high in some upstream areas, where many bridges were washed away.

Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla has pointed the finger at illegal logging as one of the causes of the deadly floods, and pledged that the government would intensify its efforts to replant the forests.

Last June, floods and landslides triggered by heavy rains killed more than 200 people in South Sulawesi province.—AFP

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