Subject: KY: Toll in W. Timor flooding rises to 160

Toll in W. Timor flooding rises to 160 Kyodo

JAKARTA, May 19 --

Massive floods that followed three days of rain in West Timor since Tuesday have killed at least 160 people, many of them children, and hundreds of others were still missing as of Friday afternoon, a local government official said.

About 10,000 more people have lost their homes.

"The death toll is likely to rise as we have only counted the victims from one subdistrict," Blasius Pese, an official at the Belu Regency Office, told Kyodo News by telephone from the regency's capital Atambua, about 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) southeast of Jakarta.

According to Pese, two subdistricts were affected by the floods.

The victims were all from Besikama area that is a part of the affected subdistricts of Central Malaka and West Malaka, about 65 km (40 miles) south of Atambua and close to the border with East Timor .

The floods reportedly struck homes of local farmers and camps of East Timorese refugees in areas near the border with East Timor and near the Indian Ocean after the Tuesday rains swelled the nearby Benenai River, which burst over its banks the following day.

Benenai, the biggest river in West Timor , divides Besikama, the "rice bowl" of Belu Regency. During rainy season, the river, known as the "mother" of other rivers in West Timor , always floods.

"(But) this time, the flooding is very horrible, covering areas, 10 km from the edges of the river," Pese said.

The fate of hundreds of farmers in West Malaka remains unclear as of Friday because floodwaters have cut off all access roads.

"Belu Regent Marcellinus Bere has been on the scene since Tuesday night and set up a team to search for victims in West Malaka," Pese said. "But they have not been able to reach West Malaka because they are afraid of further flooding because it is still raining heavily."

Meanwhile, acting Belu Regency Secretary Joachim Lopez said 22 families from the villages in Central Malaka reported missing relatives to local authorities.

Central Malaka has a population of 45,000 people and 62,000 live in West Malaka, half the population in the Belu Regency. The numbers do not include East Timorese refugees who have been seeking shelter there.

Floodwaters have reportedly reached 2 meters (6.6 feet) in some areas.

According to the official, rescue workers have been deployed to evacuate residents from flood-stricken areas, but evacuation efforts were hampered because several bridges have been swept away.

Hundreds of houses, including many sheltering East Timorese refugees, and hundreds of hectares of farmland have been under water since Wednesday.

Some 250,000 East Timorese fled to West Timor in Indonesia during post-ballot violence in East Timor last September.

The International Organization for Migration has said more than 161,000 East Timorese refugees had returned to their homeland as of Wednesday. 

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