TELUK WONDAMA, Indonesia – Heavy rain unleashed flash floods and mudslides, killing at least 56 people in a remote corner of Indonesia that rescuers were struggling to reach, officials and witnesses said Tuesday.
With dozens still missing, residents in West Papua province’s hillside village of Wasior were combing the mud in search of survivors, some with their bare hands. Hundreds of houses were destroyed — at least 30 of them completely flattened.
“I heard a roar and suddenly the river broke its banks,” said Ira Wanoni, describing the scariest deluge, which occurred early Monday. “Water mixed with rocks, mud and logs gushed out. … Many people didn’t have time to save themselves.”
With roads underwater and several bridges destroyed, rescue workers were having a hard time reaching the area, which has also been hit by power blackouts and downed telephone lines.
Navy ships carrying soldiers and police were on the way, as were several airplanes loaded down with tents, medical supplies and food.
Syamsul Maarif, who heads the National Disaster Management Agency, said the death toll had reached 56 by late Tuesday.
Some of the more than 60 people injured — most with broken bones — had to be evacuated to by helicopter.
With so many houses damaged, together with two schools, two hospitals and a hotel, hundreds of people were fleeing the area.
Landslides and flooding kill dozens of people every year in the vast tropical archipelago of Indonesia, which has more than 17,000 islands.