The fatal alchemy of mud, water and sheer force struck in eastern Indonesia at an hour past midnight on Sunday, killing at least 41 people, disaster-relief officials said.
Flash flooding and landslides submerged entire neighborhoods in East Nusa Tenggara Province, which includes more than 560 islands. Seven villages were badly affected, according to Raditya Jati, a spokesman for Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency. Twenty-seven people were missing, and nine were injured, he said.
Some of the worst damage was on the remote island of Adonara, where many residents were preparing to celebrate Easter Sunday. Torrential rain and strong winds had churned since the day before. The damage left dozens of houses under mud and water. Five bridges were severed, Mr. Raditya said.
The rescue effort has been hampered because the only access to Adonara is by sea, and waters are choppy because of the heavy rain, he said. But the priority is to ensure that survivors are moved to areas safe from further flooding or landslides.
“We are still coordinating with different departments,” Mr. Raditya said. “We are focusing on the first response at the moment.”
East Nusa Tenggara is the only majority-Roman Catholic province in Indonesia, which is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.
Each year, during the monsoon season, Indonesia braces for water-triggered calamity. But the country faces other adversity. With thousands of inhabited islands perched on the seismically active “ring of fire,” Indonesia is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, including volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, flash floods, landslides and strong storms.
In recent years, the country has also dealt with plane crashes, boat accidents and other transportation lapses.
In January, landslides killed about 40 people on Java, Indonesia’s most populous island. There, a further mudslide hit after disaster management officials had gathered to help with search and rescue efforts. The chief of a local disaster relief agency and a captain in the Indonesian Army were among those killed.
Rampant deforestation in Indonesia has contributed to the risk of such disasters, leaving soil loose and at risk of coalescing into deadly mud flows when torrential rains come.
Before this weekend, the national meteorology department had warned of high rain intensity, Mr. Raditya said. But many residents of small, far-flung islands like Adonara have few safe places to shelter.
“I think the biggest challenge will be how to utilize heavy equipment,” Mr. Raditya said, referring to efforts to dig out people and homes in hopes of finding survivors.
But given the communications challenges, Mr. Raditya said he was not sure if adequate equipment was available on Adonara.