Indonesia's West Sumatra declares 14-day state of emergency following flood, lahars that killed dozens of people


Two uniformed students walk atop rubble on May 15, 2024 past a collapsed school in Agam, one of the regions that were worst affected when flash floods and lahars struck West Sumatra on May 11. - PHOTO: Antara/Jakarta Post/ANN

JAKARTA (Jakarta Post/ANN): West Sumatra authorities have declared a state of emergency in the province following flash floods and lahars over the weekend that killed dozens of people and destroyed hundreds of homes.

The emergency status declared this week would last until next Sunday (May 26) said Ilham Wahab, spokesperson of the West Sumatra Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD).

“Declaring a state of emergency is necessary to speed up the disaster mitigation process, including victim evacuation and aid distribution,” Ilham said on Wednesday, as quoted by Kompas.com.

Hours of heavy rain on Saturday triggered flash floods, landslides and lahars, a fluid mass of water and volcanic debris from nearby Mount Marapi. The volcano has seen increased activity over the past few months, including an eruption in December 2023 that killed more than 20 people.

The disaster has affected at least six regencies and cities, including the most severely affected regencies of Agam and Tanah Datar. In addition to destroying more than 200 houses and dozens of rice fields, flooding has also cut off the main access road between the provincial capital of Padang and Bukittinggi.

As of Wednesday, the official toll recorded at least 67 fatalities and 44 injured, with at least 989 households affected by the flood.

A joint search and rescue team is searching for around 20 people who are still missing, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), while officials at Agam BPBD said the bodies of several people reported missing had been found in the regency.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) blamed the recent heavy rainfall in the province on warmer sea surface temperatures due to climate change, which led to the formation of moisture-laden clouds.

The agency also noted that a buildup of volcanic material from last year’s Mt. Marapi eruption had contributed to more severe lahars.

The government would be disbursing cash assistance ranging from Rp 15 million (US$940) to Rp 60 million to repair homes, depending on the level of damage, said BNPB head Lt. Gen. Suharyanto.

“We also offer affected residents [the option] to relocate permanently to a safer location, because this disaster might happen again,” Suharyanto said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We will provide the land and build the houses for families that want to move away from the disaster-stricken region.”

Governor Mahyeldi Ansharullah said the administrations of West Sumatra and Agam regency had readied an area for relocation, but stopped short of mentioning precisely where, saying only that provincial authorities were still working with the BMKG and the energy ministry’s Geological Agency in seeking relatively safe areas to where families could relocate.

The BNPB has ordered residents across West Sumatra, especially those living near rivers originating from Mt. Marapi, to be vigilant against the risk of further disasters. - JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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