Timor Leste: After the Flood

Cyclone Seroja slammed into Timor Leste late on Sunday night, bringing torrential rain and high winds that went on for almost 30 hours. At least 34 people lost their lives, many public roads have been destroyed and there is widespread damage across the country. Gabriel Amaral has the latest from Dili. 

Timor Leste is used to heavy rain, but this storm was unprecedented. 

Floods have killed Timorese in the past, but a death toll over 30 is also unprecedented and the toll is growing by the day. 

In the capital Dili, people living near rivers or on steep hills fared the worst, with several people killed by huge landslides.  

Timor-Leste President Francisco Guterres Lu Olo offered his condolences to the victims and says search teams are still looking for a number of missing people. 

Around 9000 people are still out of their homes and living in emergency shelters run by the Red Cross. 


Central Dili earlier this week / photo Michel Silveira- Twitter

As well as the human victims, many livestock across the country were swept away by flooding rivers in one of the biggest weather events in recent history. 

Small farmers in some parts of Timor are facing an uncertain future, and authorities are saying some villages will never be rebuilt as the location has become too dangerous. 

The storm came at a terrible time for the country - as a Covid lockdown was underway. Now health authorities say they are concerned the virus infection rate may soar as people are forced into emergency housing and crowded shelters like college gymnasiums. 

Timor-Leste this week recorded its first virus death of the pandemic  - a 44-year-old woman. 

The borders are now shut in an attempt to avoid a widespread outbreak which will place huge pressures on our basic health system. 

On a more positive note, Covid vaccines for the people arrived on Tuesday but the challenge now will be getting to those who need it most.   

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Suburban Dili at the height of the Cyclone / photo Neil Palasi

Some humanitarian assistance from the government and international agencies that work in Timor-Leste is being distributed.

The Catholic church is also offering places for people who want to shelter there. 

The Timorese government has assured the public that they will get access to humanitarian assistance as soon as possible. All members of the government are out on the streets helping directly with the recovery efforts.

Electric power has now been restored in some areas, but major work still needs to be done on broken water pipes, damaged bridges, roads and electricity networks.

Tropical Cyclone Seroja swept across Timor, and much of eastern Indonesia, with a destructive force rarely seen - even in a country where cyclones can be a yearly event. 

The scale of the damage and death means it will be months, if not years before we can get back on our feet. 

Banner photo: Flooding in suburban Dili / photo Neil Palasi

- Asia Media Centre