Flash floods in Indonesia’s Sumatra Island leave 52 dead, 20 missing

Rescuers on Tuesday searched in rivers and the rubble of devastated villages for bodies, and whenever possible survivors, of the flash floods that hit Indonesia’s Sumatra Island over the weekend. Monsoon rains and a landslide of mud and cold lava from Mount Marapi caused rivers to breach their banks. The deluge tore through mountainside villages in four districts in West Sumatra province just before midnight Saturday. The floods swept away people and 79 homes and submerged hundreds of houses and buildings, forcing more than 3,300 residents to flee to temporary government shelters, according to National Disaster Management Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari. The National Search and Rescue Agency said in a statement that 52 bodies had been pulled from mud and rivers by Tuesday, mostly in the worst-hit Agam and Tanah Datar districts, while rescuers are searching for 20 people who are missing. Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency said that more downpours were forecast for the West Sumatra province in the coming days, and that the danger of extreme rainfall would continue until next week. The agency recommended the application of weather modification to reduce rain. National Disaster Management Agency chief Suharyanto said that authorities would start seeding clouds in the province in a bid to prevent further rainfall and flash floods. “We are deploying weather modification technology starting tomorrow so that rain does not fall during this emergency response period,” Suharyanto, who goes by a single name like many Indonesians, told reporters while visiting devastated areas in Agam district. He added that the emergency response will be ended on May 25. Television reports showed rescue personnel using jackhammers, circular saws, farm tools and sometimes their bare hands, digging desperately in Agam district where roads were transformed into murky brown rivers and villages covered by thick mud, rocks, and uprooted trees. Scores of rescue personnel were searching through a river around the Anai Valley Waterfall area in Tanah Datar district where tons of mud, rocks and trees were left from flash floods. Rescuers were focused on finding four people from a group of seven that were swept away with their cars. Three other bodies were pulled out on Monday, said Abdul Malik, who heads the Search and Rescue Office in Padang, the provincial capital. “With many missing and some remote areas still unreachable, the death toll was likely to rise,” Malik said. Heavy rains cause frequent landslides and flash floods in Indonesia, an archipelago nation of more than 17,000 islands where millions of people live in mountainous areas or near floodplains. The floods came just two months after heavy rains triggered flash floods and a landslide in West Sumatra, killing at least 26 people and leaving 11 others missing. A surprise eruption of Mount Marapi late last year killed 23 climbers. The mountain’s sudden eruptions are difficult to predict because the source is shallow and near the peak, according to Indonesia’s Center for Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation. Marapi has been active since an eruption in January 2024 that caused no casualties. It is among more than 120 active volcanoes in Indonesia. The country is prone to seismic upheaval because of its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.