Australia is on standby to offer emergency aid to East Timor after the worst floods in 40 years have ravaged the island country and left at least 34 dead and thousands displaced. The natural disaster comes as East Timor prepares for its rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine after receiving its first batch on April 5.
“We stand ready to assist the government and people of Timor-Leste (East Timor) in response to further requests for assistance,” a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) official told AAP on April 5.
“Australia and NGO (non-governmental organisation) partners on the ground to whom we provide funding have given support to evacuation centres.”
“We are supporting access to clean water for the centres through our existing development program.”
Torrential rains from Tropical Cyclone Seroja has brought flash floods, landslides, and strong winds to the southern Indonesian archipelago, with the total death toll in the region nearing 200.
East Timor’s Deputy Prime Minister Jose Reis said that the cyclone had caused the worst flooding the country has seen in 40 years, with powerful flood currents continuing to flow through villages in the Malaka district on Timor island, even though the rain had stopped. Some residents hauled themselves to their roofs to escape the rising floodwaters.
“We had to dismantle the zinc roof. We went out through the back door and pulled ourselves out with a rope,” Agustina Luruk, 36, told Reuters as she and her three daughters waited to be evacuated by the side of a muddy road.
In a statement, East Timor’s president Francisco Guterres Lú Olo described the floods as a “great calamity” and said authorities were still assessing the impact of the floods.
“We were already experiencing a calamity due to COVID-19, and it has now been compounded by this one, which has brought so much pain to our people—especially to those who have not survived.”
Currently, the Australian’ government’s PARTISIPA program is on the ground in East Timor, working to provide clean drinking water to evacuation centres, DFAT noted in a post on Twitter on April 6.
🇦🇺 is working with the Government of Timor-Leste to support their emergency flood response. Through 🇦🇺’s development program, PARTISIPA is providing access to clean water for evacuation centres. PARTISIPA works to support local infrastructure, development & economic growth⬇️ https://t.co/rso2KP8uTY
— DFAT🇦🇺 (@dfat) April 6, 2021
DFAT also said that Australia’s Defence Cooperation Program had provided emergency backup power to East Timor’s COVID Crisis Centre.
According to a statement, the first round of vaccinations was planned for 20 percent of the population, with front line workers initially scheduled to have their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on April 7.
East Timor government minister Fidelis Leite Magalhães told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that the country would most likely ask for assistance soon.
“The government would request assistance from friendly countries, especially Australia, considering its closeness and available resources and experience in disaster management, after conducting its assessment of the damage,” he said.
“The Australian embassy and its agencies are working very hard side by side with the Timorese government and its people.”
Shadow Minister for the Pacific, Pat Conroy, added that there was a “clear need for an emergency response” in East-Timor to help with the recovery.
“The (Australian) government needs to respond to any requests for assistance from Timor-Leste,” he told the ABC. “We owe a debt of gratitude to the people of Timor-Leste that we can never fully repay.”
The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) said in a post on Twitter that cyclone Seroja is expected to track southwest over the next few days to open waters north of Western Australia. They warned those living in northwestern Australia that the storm could approach far west Pilbara or Gascoyne coast towards the weekend and advised them to keep up to date with any weather warnings.
Tropical #CycloneSeroja formed near Kupang, Indonesia this morning. It will drift SW over the open waters north of WA and intensify. It’ll likely remain over water, but people in the W Pilbara are advised to stay up to date with the latest information at https://t.co/31Vz5uvhx2 pic.twitter.com/q0mzn1dKbF
— Bureau of Meteorology, Western Australia (@BOM_WA) April 5, 2021
AAP contributed to this report.