People attempt to retrieve a vehicle after a deadly flood swept through Sentani, Papua on March 16-17. (Photo by Benny Mawel)
At least 70 people have been confirmed dead and many more are missing in the wake of a flash flood that swept through villages of Indonesia's Papua province on the weekend.
Flooding after a March 16-17 downpour displaced more than 4,000 people and caused widespread injuries in the Sentani area, near the provincial capital, Jayapura.
Most of the already recovered bodies were taken to the Police Bhayangkara Hospital in Jayapura for identification.
A Papua police spokesman, Ahmad Musthofa Kamal, said 69 people were reportedly still missing.
"So, the number of dead could increase," Kamal told reporters, adding that out of 61 corpses taken to the police hospital, more than 20 had been identified and handed over to family members for burial.
"The rest are being identified," he added.
Kamal said the flooding severely damaged 350 houses, 104 shops, two Protestant churches, one mosque, three important bridges, eight schools, a major market and four main roads.
Hundreds of motor vehicles and a Cessna Twin Otter aircraft were damaged.
Senior Jayapura district official Matius Awaitau called for a high level of cooperation to render emergency assistance.
Hengky Hilapok, a Catholic leader at the Christ the Redeemer Church in Sentani, said the parish priest and church leaders are reaching out to the displaced.
"We have opened an aid post,” he told ucanews.com.
"Our first priority is to provide milk for children who fled the disaster zone."
His team is soliciting donations from local and other parishes as well as from the Catholic welfare agency, Caritas, in Jayapura.
Aiesh Rumbekwan, director of the Papua Forum for the Environment, blamed the disaster on illegal logging as well as the permitting of land clearing for infrastructure development and plantations.
"This disaster should serve as a reminder for local governments throughout Papua to not neglect environmental issues in development," he said.
Rumbekwan warned there would be more such catastrophes if there was a failure to introduce land use reforms.
Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, of Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency, said the weekend flood destruction resulted from massive deforestation of Cycloop Mountain in the Jayapura district.
"People have cut trees to build houses, for firewood or to open new farms,” the news website Kompas.com quoted Nugroho as saying March 17.