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Indonesia: Survivors recount horror of floods

  • May 12, 2024
  • 6
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Rina Devina was getting ready for bed with her husband and two of their children on the Indonesian island of Sumatra when she heard a crashing noise and someone shouting “flash flood!”

Hours of heavy rain created a flood carrying blocks of cold lava from a nearby volcano, Mount Marapi, which hit two districts shortly before midnight on Saturday, killing around 30 people and destroying residents, roads and mosques. More than a dozen people remain missing.

Surviving residents of Tanah Datar and neighboring Agam district speak of their horror when the flood suddenly engulfed everything, sweeping away their neighbors and submerging homes and buildings.

“The rain was very heavy. I heard thunder and a sound similar to boiling water. It was the sound of large rocks falling from Mount Marapi,” Rina, a woman at home of 43 years of Agam.

“My house is fine, but my neighbors’ house was flattened by large rocks. Three of my neighbors died – the mother, the father and the child. Another neighbor, aged 85, also died” , she lists.

This mother of three explains that the electricity was cut off, so she couldn’t see anything until she ran to the mayor’s office. She fled in the pouring rain with only the clothes she wore and her family by her side.

Damage after a flash flood and a flow of cold lava from a volcano in Tanah Datar, Indonesia, May 12, 2024 / REZAN SOLEH / AFP

“It was pitch black, I used my phone as a torch. The road was muddy, so I sang ‘God have mercy’ over and over again,” she said. Rina is now in a shelter that she will not leave until authorities say it is safe.

In Tanah Datar, the flood left the roads in a muddy layer. Trucks ended up in river beds, mosques were devastated by rivers of debris.

Some buildings are covered halfway up in mud. The surface of the street, higher than it was before, is already crisscrossed by motorcycles.


The rains have transformed these neighborhoods into a sea of ​​mud and debris interrupted only by building roofs and palm trees.

An AFP journalist on the scene said the heavy rains were “terrifying”, forcing residents to find emergency shelter.

Rescuers deployed inflatable boats to search for bodies and possible survivors.

Budi Rahmat, a 44-year-old farmer from Agam, remembers hearing thunder and rocks rolling down the road.

Trucks swept away by flash floods and a cold lava flow ended up in the bed of a river, in Tanah Datar, on the island of Sumatra (Indonesia), May 12, 2024 / REZAN SOLEH / AFP

“My house was vibrating. I looked outside and saw water flowing,” the father of five told AFP. “My house is fortunately intact. It was only flooded by water, not rocks.”

His entire family, including a two-year-old child, was finally able to take refuge in safety with a relative living on higher ground.

Rescuers are continuing the search to find the missing, at least fifteen.

“I was pacing around the house over and over again, hesitating whether to evacuate or not. My mind was in total chaos,” Budi Rahmat said. “All I could think about was that I had to save my wife and children.”