More than 63 killed, dozens injured as severe flash floods hit Papua, Indonesia

More than 63 people were killed, at least 74 injured and 4 000+ displaced in the Indonesian province of Papua over the weekend as heavy rain produced severe flash floods and landslides, the country’s disaster officials said Sunday, March 17, 2019. The death toll is expected to rise as rescuers continue SAR operations.

The worst of the flooding took place in the town of Sentani, near the provincial capital Jayapura on Saturday evening.

The spokesman for Indonesia’s disaster management agency, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, said 51 people were killed in the town and 74 injured. About 4 150 people are taking shelter in six evacuation centers.

9 houses were washed away in the town and hundreds of others flooded in neck-high water and mud. In addition, a Twin Otter aircraft was damaged at the Sentani International Airport, several roads and at least two bridges. 

“We are still assessing the damage,” Sutopo said. “There will likely be more [damage and casualties] because not all affected areas had been reached.”

Papua police spokesman, Suryadi Diaz, said the overcutting of trees in the hills above the town to convert the forest to farming land contributed to the heavy flooding. “There was little vegetation to slow the flow of water,” Diaz said. “Small rivers quickly became overloaded,” he added.

Nugroho said that disaster management authorities had warned local governments of flash flood risks due to deforestation and sent seedlings intended for tree-planting.

“Forest destruction in the Cyclops mountains have increased for use as firewood and to turn the land into plantations,” Nugroho said. “We have warned the Jayapura government to be careful of flash flood risks because of this deforestation,” he added.

Featured image: Severe floods in Sentani, Papua, Indonesia on March 16, 2019. Credit: Jack Okoka (Phantom Photography)

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