NICE MEMORY IN BATAK LAND not very long ago.

Sumatra flood death toll rises

Residents gather around the victims of a flood in Bohorok, North Sumatra

Many people are still missing

Rescue workers are searching for survivors of a flash flood on the Indonesian island of Sumatra which has left at least 80 people dead. There are fears the death toll could rise because more than 100 people are reported to be still missing.

Torrential rains caused the flood which hit an area popular with back-packers, about 80 km (50 miles) to the north-west of North Sumatra’s capital, Medan.

Officials blamed intense logging in the area for making the flooding worse.

 

 

The flash floods hit in the early hours of Monday as most people slept, practically wiping out the village of Bukit Lawang.

Bukit Lawang is popular with tourists who take part in jungle treks in the nearby Gunung Leuser national park and visit a popular rehabilitation centre for orang-utans.

Guesthouses and roads have been washed away, while settlements have been coated in a layer of mud, beneath which the missing are thought to be located.

“Looking at the conditions at the moment, there is a very small possibility of finding anyone alive,” said rescue worker Lt Col Aman Depari.

Tourists killed

Five tourists – two German women aged 20 and 26, a 63-year-old Singaporean male, a 30-year-old Dutch man and a Austrian man, aged 30 – were listed as among the dead.

The 26-year-old German woman was named as Edi Sofyan, an official said.

Nur Rahma, 35, saw three of her children, aged between 18 months and six, swept away.

“I still hope my children are alive. I will keep looking till their bodies are found,” she said, weeping.

“Everybody knows someone who was killed. Why us?” said Lebeh Muktar.

One survivor, who identified himself only as Hendri, said he had witnessed his parents drown in the torrent.

He said that he had also been swept away: “The logs and rocks hit my body and turned me black and blue. I survived when neighbours pulled me out of the river.”

Television footage showed people attaching themselves to rope in order to cross the vast, bubbling expanse of water.

Some told of miraculous escapes.

Californians Tom Donelly and Tyson Murphy said they had climbed trees to escape the deluge.

“We were asleep when the flash floods hit our room,” Mr Donelly, 26, said.

“We were up to our necks and then we were swept out of our room but we managed to grab two trees and climbed up them. We were the luckiest people in the world.”

Logging impact

There are only 10% of the houses left
Leo Zwetsloot
Dutch tourist

The tragedy has focused attention once again on the rapid destruction of Indonesia’s forests.

A contributing factor may have been the lodging of hundreds of thousands of logs in a waterway in the mountains above the village, which came crashing down when the water pressure came too great, locals said.

They said the government had ordered the felling of hundreds of trees for the construction of a major highway from neighbouring Central Aceh district.

“I am sure there is an impact from illegal logging on the flash flood,” said North Sumatra governor Rizal Nurdin, visiting the scene.

“One of the basic problems is lack of political will from the central government to fight illegal logging in Gunung Leuser.”

But the Indonesian Environment Minister, Nabiel Makarim, told the BBC’s East Asia Today programme that there was not much illegal logging in the area.

He described the incident as a “freak accident,” caused by water getting clogged, and then being released as a flash flood.

But he did admit that illegal logging was a major problem, which was hard to tackle because of entrenched corruption in the government and the courts.

“There are 45 cases in the courts, so we are doing it, but the problem is too big,” he said.

The authorities have said they may have to close the area to visitors for up to six months.

The BBC correspondent in Indonesia says that will have a devastating impact on local villagers, many of whom work in service industries.



Use the form below to send us your experiences of the flooding, or the experiences of people you know who have been caught in it. 

Sumatra has been a “time bomb” for many years; an environmental disaster waiting to happen
Susan Johnston, Indonesia

According to environmentalists and NGO workers here in Indonesia, Sumatra has been a “time bomb” for many years; an environmental disaster waiting to happen. Foremost among their concerns is the irresponsible destruction of vast areas of rainforest, including the national park and orang-utan habitat area upstream from this flood. This is but one of many environmentally devastated areas in Sumatra. This devastation is yet another of Indonesia’s “dirty little secrets”.
This secret is in fact, not so little at all. To put it in perspective, the island of Sumatra is the size of Great Britain. It contains (or rather, contained) some of the most important and largest tracts of rainforest in the world. The rate at which these forests are being wiped out is appalling, and its impact is far greater than that of localised flash floods. These rainforests are the lungs of the planet. Our lungs.
Susan Johnston, Indonesia

I travelled there for the millennium. The Bohorok River is always raging. The guest houses are so close to the river; they never had a chance if there was a 15 foot wall of trees rocks and water for 30 minutes. When you go there it becomes a part of your life; I met so many wonderful people. My heart goes out to everyone in Bukit Lawang.
Michael Hren, USA.

At certain times during the rainy season our street in Yogyakarta (central Java) was flooded knee deep. Some of the youngsters fashioned boards from bits of scrap wood and had hours of fun trying to ‘surf’ down the road.
Ed, Hong Kong

I was caught up in the Gujrat Flood is 1979 when the Morbi Dam burst. The devastation was tremendous. The only help we received was from an organisation called ‘BAPS’ who now have a big temple in NW London in Neasden. It is a Swaminarayan Temple and I went there 24 years later to pay my thanks.
Shyam Mehta, India

For the most part of the year, I lived and work in Bukit Lawang, where the floods have occurred. I am currently on holiday back in the UK, but my boyfriend, who is Indonesian, is still there. I cannot find out how he is. Bukit Lawang, although touristy, is a small and very close community; of which I have always felt a part. I am desperate to return to try and salvage what little remains. The community will pull together, and will support each other, but at the moment I can only imagine the devastation that has been caused.
Personally, at the least, I have lost my home and my possessions, and a few people that I care about. I dare not think of the worst-case scenario – that I may have lost the love of my life, and many friends.
Hayley Wood, UK

I stayed at the Jungle Inn Bukit Lawang in 1996. There was only one way to describe the place – the Garden of Eden. How sad to think of the place gone. My thoughts go out to the local people, who made the place such a wonderful destination for nature tourists.
Ifan Morgan, UK

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