06/22/2006, 00.00
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More than 200 killed in Sulawesi floods

For three days, torrential rains have been pouring down on the island. The government has promised to investigate claims that illegal logging may be one of the possible causes of the tragedy.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Villagers and rescue teams searched for survivors of flooding on the island of Sulawesi, one of Indonesia's largest, while the official death toll climbed to 210. The area was struck by landslides and flooding following three days of torrential rain. 

More than 135 other people were missing in the hardest hit southern districts of Sulawesi Island, with many feared to have been swept out to sea. At least two roads were still blocked by landslides and flood waters reached almost 2-metres high in one district, said rescue official Abdul Malik. In the worst-hit region of Sinjai, 174 people had been killed, according to information posted on a board outside an emergency relief centre there. At least 30 others have died in neighbouring regions, officials said.

The flash floods and landslides were triggered by incessant rains since 19 June, and the government has promised an investigation into claims by environmentalists that illegal logging may have been a contributory factor.

"Search and rescue efforts are still underway to find missing bodies and evacuate people from devastated areas, but rescuers say most of the missing people are likely to have been swept out to sea," said Ode Parmodes, an official at the island's disaster relief coordination office.

Many survivors are complaining mostly about diarrhoea, skin infections and other sicknesses, which could lead to more deaths. Hundreds of people flocked to hospitals to look for missing relatives, witnesses said. A survivor called Rohim recounted being swept out to sea after a flood tore through his house two days ago, in the morning. He survived for nine hours by hanging onto a piece of drift wood, but his wife and two sons were still missing. "I pray for them, and hope rescuers can find them," he said at Sinjai hospital, to where he was admitted. "I will stay here until I can find them: dead or alive."

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