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Death Toll From Indonesia Floods Hits 101

November 6, 2003

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ The death toll from a flash flood close to an orangutan reserve in western Indonesia hit 101 on Thursday as the government promised to punish illegal loggers held responsible for the disaster.

At least 146 other people are reported missing and feared dead as a result of the flood Sunday, which sent thousands of logs and water crashing down on Bukit Lawang village in north Sumatra, said provincial spokesman Edi Sofyan.

Officials have cautioned, however, that the missing figure could be inflated, saying it is likely that some people on the list had left the area before the flood.

Rescuers and villagers Thursday continued the search for corpses in the village, whose location on the edge of a national park and close to an orangutan reserve drew backpackers from around the world.

Sofyan said the search for corpses would be called of in ``a week’s time″, and those still missing would be declared dead.

Government officials have blamed widespread illegal logging on mountain slopes high above Bukit Lawang for the flooding, the latest in a series of similar disasters across Indonesia.

Vice President Hamzah Haz said he had ordered police to take action against the loggers, many of which are alleged to have links to elements of either the police and military themselves.

``This is no longer just about money, this is about life,″ he said as quoted in Media Indonesia daily.

The flood destroyed dozens of guesthouses, restaurants and homes on the banks of the Bahorok River. Five of those killed were foreign tourists, but their names and nationalities have yet to be released.

On Wednesday, Environment Minister Nabiel Makarim labeled illegal loggers as ``terrorists,″ and said ``it is extremely difficult to prosecute them because we are dealing with corrupt officials and business people.″

Tourism has been the mainstay of Bukit Lawang since the orangutan reserve was established more than 20 years ago. The village was one of Sumatra’s most visited tourist resorts.

Logging on Sumatra has also shrunk forests where endangered tigers, elephants and orangutans live. The island has several national parks that are home to threatened animals.

(cb/if)

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