Residents watching as rescuers extract mud-covered bodies from the debris in Lamanele village, East Flores, Indonesia after torrential rains from Tropical Cyclone Seroja, one of the most destructive storms to hit the region in years, turned small communities into wastelands of mud. – AFP

LEMBATA, Indonesia: Two Indonesian navy ships packed with aid arrived yesterday in a cyclone-ravaged section of the archipelago, as the disaster’s death toll rose to nearly 180 people, including dozens killed in neighboring East Timor. The vessels docked in hard-hit Lembata and Adonara island with hospital ships also en route to the ravaged cluster of islands in eastern Indonesia where thousands have been left homeless and dozens are still missing.

Meanwhile, Australian authorities yesterday urged holidaymakers to evacuate a stretch of the country’s western coastline in the path of a cyclone that has devastated parts of Indonesia and East Timor. Tropical Cyclone Seroja is expected to hit Western Australia late Sunday or early Monday after tracking south. It is forecast to bring “destructive winds with gusts of 150 kilometres per hour (93 miles per hour) and intense rainfall that could cause flash flooding” on parts of the coast, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Emergency services warned holidaymakers-many camping or travelling in caravans-to leave ahead of forecast weekend storms that would be quickly followed by the cyclone. “If you remain in the area in a tent or caravan, you are at risk,” said assistant commissioner Paul Ryan, adding that these structures were “highly dangerous” in wild weather.

Local residents were also urged to prepare emergency kits and ensure their homes were ready for the expected impact. The cyclone is forecast to make landfall in a relatively isolated part of Western Australia-a sprawling, sparsely populated state-as a category 2 or 3 system. Almost 180 people were killed in Indonesia and neighboring East Timor earlier this week after the cyclone proved one of the most destructive storms to hit the region in years. Dozens more are still missing and thousands have been left homeless.

Torrential rains from Tropical Cyclone Seroja, one of the most destructive storms to hit the region in years, turned small communities into wastelands of mud and uprooted trees, sending thousands fleeing to shelters amid widespread power blackouts. The storm on Sunday swept buildings in some villages down a mountainside and to the shore of the ocean on Lembata, where one of the aid ships arrived yesterday.

The navy vessels are packed with food, including rice and noodles, as well as blankets and other materials for some of the region’s more than 20,000 evacuees. “The two navy ships arrived today,” said Kompiang Aribawa, a regional naval base chief. “Another ship will arrive later today carrying military personnel who will be deployed to help people in the aftermath of the disaster,” he added. A cargo plane left Jakarta for the disaster-struck region with about 100,000 face masks, virus test kits, as well as prepared food and blankets for survivors, Indonesia’s disaster agency chief said earlier.

At least 140 people have been listed as dead in Indonesia. Another 37 were killed in East Timor-a tiny half-island nation of 1.3 million sandwiched between Indonesia and Australia that is officially known as Timor-Leste. More than 70 people are still listed as missing, with disaster agency officials deploying sniffer dogs to search mountains of debris for bodies-and any survivors. Rescuers have spent the past few days using diggers and shovels to extract mud-covered corpses from the debris. Hospitals, bridges and thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed by the storm.

Authorities in both countries were also battling to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks in crammed evacuation shelters. Fatal landslides and flash floods are common across the Indonesian archipelago during the rainy season, with deforestation often the cause, environmentalists say. The disaster agency has estimated that 125 million Indonesians-nearly half of the country’s population-live in areas at risk of landslides. – AFP