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Flooding Kills 125 in West Timor

May 19, 2000

DILI, East Timor (AP) _ U.N. and Indonesian officials on Friday were evacuating islanders from lowlands in Timor, where deadly floods have ravaged the Indonesian-held western half of the island and were menacing the east.

At least 125 refugees living in West Timor camps have drowned in the surging floodwaters, which toppled bridges and swept away key roads.

All roads leading from the East Timorese capital have been washed out, leaving residents and aid workers unable to travel further than 30 miles from Dili by road.

``These roads are not designed, not built well enough, to handle the sheer amount of traffic they are being used for,″ said Matt Everitt of Timor Aid, in Dili.

Because of the communication problems, it was unclear if the floods had claimed any lives in East Timor.

``But it doesn’t mean there are no casualties, as areas are virtually cut off,″ said Bernard Kerblat, chief of operations of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in West Timor.

Monsoon rains had been drenching the region for weeks, but the floods began only this week, said Jake Morland, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Kupang, the capital of West Timor.

Many of the 125 refugees who drowned in West Timor were women and children, he said. About 90,000 East Timorese still live in western refugee camps _ out of the 250,000 who fled when violence engulfed their half of the island in September. Many are relatives of the pro-Indonesian militiamen who rampaged through East Timor after its voters opted to secede from Indonesia in an Aug. 30 referendum.

The lowlands in West Timor have been worst hit by the floods. In the southern Betun region, 100,000 people have been affected, Kerblat told a news conference.

The situation was worsening rapidly, he said. People had no reliable water supplies and were running out of food. There were also fears of a possible outbreak of cholera.

Three U.N. helicopters from East Timor had left to evacuate people to higher ground, Morland said. Nearly 1,500 people from the southern Belu region were already rescued.

Indonesia allowed the U.N. aircraft to operate freely for at least one week in its airspace, and the world body intended to send aid to stranded refugees west of the border.

``A natural disaster transcends any (border) considerations,″ said U.N. administrator Sergio Vieria de Mello. The U.N. helicopters are to have a member of the Indonesian military and an interpreter on board at all times.

Rain and swirling floodwaters also were causing damage in the East Timorese towns of Suai, Los Palos and Viqueque.