Church officials have rushed to the aid of victims of a landslide and flooding on Indonesia's eastern island of Flores that displaced thousands of people and killed eight members of a Catholic family. The landslide occurred in West Manggarai district following hours of heavy rain on March 7. Within three days, bodies of all the family members had been recovered by search and rescue team members. The deluge damaged farms and paralyzed main roads connecting the district capital, Labuan Bajo, to other major towns on the Catholic-majority island. Ruteng Diocese, which oversees three districts in East Nusa Tenggara province including West Manggarai, provided urgent assistance to victims and instructed parishes to aid those who were uprooted. Father Yuvens Rugi
, director of the diocese's Caritas
social welfare organization, said that by March 10 more than one tonne of rice had been provided as well as instant noodles, water and clothing. "We will go again this week to provide further assistance," Father Rugi told ucanews.com March 11. However, he said that church volunteers could only help around 300 people because of difficulty of accessing other locations, with the rest relying on the generosity of residents of villages that were not affected by flooding or landslides. Father Rugi said people would not return to the storm-hit villages in the immediate future because their houses were damaged and they feared more landslides. There are many worrying cracks visible in the earth, he added. The immediate focus was on emergency needs, so other responses such as repairing damaged houses would have to be carried out later, the priest said. Caritas has built an aid post in the worst-affected village and will continue to coordinate with the local parish. Many church communities, including the Indonesian Student Catholic Association, are raising funds to ease the burden of those affected. Venansius Haryanto, a researcher at the civil society organization Sunspirit for Justice and Peace
based in Labuan Bajo, said that the fatal landslide might have been triggered by the clearing of forests for farms and settlements. "The recent disaster is a warning to all parties to care about the environment," the researcher said. The local West Manggarai district administration announced a 14-day emergency response period, including for establishment of public kitchens to feed refugees and administer medicines.
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A local official said it could take weeks to re-open all main roads.