Wed, Nov 05, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Death toll in Indonesian flood climbs to 170

HEAVY RAINS A government official said illegal logging, which had stripped the surrounding area of plant cover, was responsible for the staggering human loss

REUTERS , BUKIT LAWANG, INDONESIA

Tommy Donelly from California hangs on a rope over a flooded river as he escapes from the wrecked resort town in Bohorok, North Sumatra Province, yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

The death toll from a flash flood that swept through an Indonesian mountain resort jumped to 170 yesterday and rescuers said it could rise.

Five foreign tourists were among those killed in a disaster one official said was largely caused by illegal logging, which had stripped surrounding mountains of plant cover.

The flood struck in the early hours of Monday as most people slept. It was triggered by heavy rains swelling the Bahorok river, which is lined by guesthouses, restaurants and homes.

Most of the dead are from the resort village of Bukit Lawang in one of Indonesia's biggest national parks, which is popular for its rhinos, tigers and a rehabilitation center for orangutans.

"The number who have died up until now is 170 people according to the available data," North Sumatra Governor Rizal Nurdin told reporters at the site.

Rescuers continued to search through the wreckage of logs, boulders and collapsed guesthouses but rain, mud and collapsed roads and bridges in the Gunung Leuser national park were hampering rescue work, officials at the scene said.

"The river banks are filled with logs and broken trees. We presume there are more bodies there," said an official from the search and rescue team.

The guesthouses in Bukit Lawang, some charging as little as a dollar or two a day, mostly catered to foreign backpackers and Indonesian tourists.

The bodies of four Europeans and a Singaporean have so far been identified.

Search and rescue crews in inflatable rubber boats patrolled the river fishing out bodies yesterday, a Reuters photographer said.

A Western man staying at the orangutan center said some of the great apes had also been swept away.

Along the banks of the river, mangled houses lined eroded banks, while tree roots as tall as houses were entangled with the remains of homes, trucks and other vehicles.

The body of a 26-year-old German woman was identified yesterday, said North Sumatra provincial spokesman Edi Sofyan.

Officials have identified the others as a 20-year-old German woman, a 40-year-old Austrian woman and a 67-year-old Singaporean man. There was some dispute over the identity of a fifth victim, a man described as German or Swiss.

In Bukit Lawang itself, hundreds of grieving residents wept outside a makeshift morgue and a mosque.

Chief Social Welfare Minister Jusuf Kalla said rampant illegal logging was at least partly responsible for the disaster.

"This is the [biggest] mistake of all because we have not been protecting our environment, especially against illegal logging," he said.

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