Around 180 people have died, and 72 remain unaccounted for after torrential rain and heavy winds from tropical Cyclone Seroja ravaged Indonesia and East Timor on Sunday 4 April, triggering flash floods and landslides across a cluster of islands in the region.
Authorities have said the death toll is expected to rise as rescue missions reach more isolated areas that were previously inaccessible due to strong waves and a lack of suitable equipment.
The tropical cyclone is one of the deadliest to hit the region since 2008, causing significant damage to homes, buildings, roads, public facilities and bridges which has forced thousands of people to evacuate and seek shelter amid widespread power blackouts.
There have been concerns from authorities about the spread of COVID-19 as thousands of people have been crammed into small evacuation centres and isolation facilities have had to be evacuated due to flooding.
Reports from Health Alliance International suggest that the storm has caused significant damage to the COVID PPE storage and distribution centre and the national lab in which COVID tests are analysed. As of 5 April, over 1.5 million COVID-19 cases have been reported by Indonesia and 41,000 deaths.
Campaigners have warned that tropical cyclones in Indonesia, which were once a rarity, are happening more frequently due to the effects of climate change coupled with government environmental deregulations.
In a press conference reported by the Jakarta Post, Dwikorita Karnawati, director of the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics, explained that the average sea surface temperature has risen from 26 degrees Celsius to 30 degrees Celsius in recent years due to climate change.
This has led to more frequent and severe tropical cyclones in the region, which have now been happening every once, or twice a year, since 2017.
A second cyclone, which has been named cyclone Odette, has formed off Western Australia and could hit the islands of Bali and Sumatra later this week, Karnawati warned.
Discussing the rarity of the twin-cyclone event, Bradley Santos, senior meteorologist at the Bureau of Meteorology, said: “I can't recall, certainly since the early 1970s, for two systems to interact so close to the WA mainland, and for two systems to have the potential to impact the WA mainland as well.”, as reported by ABC News.