People Continue to be Haunted by Flash Floods
Flash floods as a result of the destruction of forests in conservation areas continue to haunt local residents. When the rainy season arrives, the people who live downstream from a conservation area are on alert.
Eri Chan Pasnepil (42) stood in front of a house that had been abandoned for more than three years. Wild vegetation covered the front wall of the house. He had a hard time choosing which words to begin with.
"Three years ago, my child almost died here," Eri said on Saturday (7/5/2022).
The tin-roofed house is located in Nagari Kampung Tengah, Ranah Ampek Hulu (Rahul) Tapan district of Pesisir Selatan regency, West Sumatra, around a 6-hour drive from the provincial capital, Padang.
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Houses, rice fields and farms belonging to the residents Nagari Kampung Tengah line the banks of the Batang Tapan River. The upper part of the river flows through Kerinci Seblat National Park (TNKS), which is located not far from the village.
At first glance, Nagari Kampung Tengah looks normal, like other small villages on the edge of a forest. However, on closer observation, the houses there are different in several ways.
The residents have made piles of large river stones in front of their houses, which have yellow lines on the walls. Large logs are also seen, scattered near several street corners.
Local resident Abu Yani (63) said the logs were carried away during the flood in December 2021. That year, Rahul Tapan district was hit by four flash floods.
“The yellow lines on the walls of the houses [mark] the level of yesterday’s floodwaters. The stones in front of the houses are embankments to reduce the amount of water that enters the houses," said Abu.
In Rahul Tapan district, no less than 800 houses are submerged every time a flood hits. Flooding has been constant and growing worse since 2017. One of the worst affected villages is Nagari Kampung Tengah, where Eri and her family lived until 2018.
Eri recalled one afternoon in early November 2018, when the Batang Tapan River overflowed yet again. He was working outside, while his wife and three children were at home.
When the neighbors shouted that the water was coming, Eri’s wife immediately took two children outside the house and led them towards a higher place, while the couple’s eldest son stayed inside the house, sitting on a mound of paddy half a meter high.
“Not more than 10 minutes after the water came, my wife did not have the chance to go back to the house. The house was submerged up to the roof,” Eri said.
> When Flash Floods Take Lives
Fortunately, one of their neighbors had broken into the house upon hearing Eri’s eldest son cry for help. By then, the mound of paddy atop which his son had taken refuge had been swept away by the flood.
“My son was hanging from the [rafters] of the house. By that time, the water had reached up to his neck. One moment later, and I don’t know what would have happened to him,” he said.
Besides nearly killing Eri’s son, the flood also swept away all the family’s belongings, including the harvested paddy, which was valued at no less than Rp 25 million.
The disaster left Eri and his family deeply traumatized. At the beginning of 2019, they decided to move to a new house located away from the Batang Napan River in Nagari Ampang Tulak Tapan, around 5 kilometers from the family’s former home.
Flood in Sentani
In Sentani, Jayapura regency, Papua, residents have also worried over the flash flood in 2019 that left 80 people dead.
Ifon Welce Hokoyoku (32) was a survivor of that disaster. Together with her husband and four children, Ifon managed to evacuate to a safe place before the floodwaters arrived. They managed to shelter in a church, Gereja Kristen Indonesia Sinai Dobokurung Doyo Baru, located on higher ground above the family’s house.
“At that time, I was the last one who returned to the house to save some clothes and a number of important documents, only within 10 minutes. The water had already submerged the house to the height of my thigh. The floodwaters in our complex was accompanied by mud and gravel,” Ifon said.
> If the Forest is Damaged, The Lives of Residents will be Under Threat
> Elegy for early 2021: Upstream Landslides, Downstream Flooding
The BTN Nauli housing complex in Doyo Baru was one of the nine areas that were the hardest hit by the flood, which occurred at 8 p.m. local time. The complex is located just below Cyclops Mountains Nature Reserve, around 1 kilometer away.
Ifon and her family live in Blok 3 of BTN Nauli complex. The most severely affected area was Blok 2. All the houses there were swept away by the floodwaters, which carried stone and debris from Cyclops.
No other choice
Four blocks in the BTN Nauli complex had houses of the 36 type. That afternoon, some of the houses that were damaged were left without attention. Ifon’s house was one of those that were repaired.
“We got assistance for repairing the house. We were not offered relocation to a safer place by the Jayapura regency government,” she said.
Baltasar Oyaitou, another survivor of the BTN Nauli complex flood, said that 14 of his neighbors were killed in the flash flood. The bodies of two neighbors had never been recovered. Baltasar and his family managed to save themselves after fleeing to the Cyclops Mountains.
After the flood, Baltasar’s house was severely damaged. The inside of the house was covered by floodwaters. No kitchen utensils were left. “The sound of the flood was like the sound of an airplane. I’m grateful that, together with my wife and five children, we could be saved after staying on the mountain for four hours,” he said.
Baltasar said that he had bought his house in BTN Nauli using a mortgage (KPR). Up to now, there had been no clear explanations from the developer, the bank or the regional government as to whether the affected residents would be relocated, should resume paying their mortgage installments or stop paying off their mortgages, because the area was categorized as a flood hazard zone.
Meanwhile, Yeni Alfosina Kreutha, the head of Neighborhood Unit (RT) 002 in the BTN Nauli housing complex, said she was grateful that she was able to save herself and her daughter, even though her house was severely damaged. Yeni’s dughter, Tiara, who was 16 years old at the time of the flood, was saved after she had been trapped at the house for three hours, her legs pinned by large rocks when she returned to save her motorcycle.
The government only offered assistance for repairing houses without preparing a new settlement location.
Tiara’s motorcycle could no be saved due to the strong current. While her legs were trapped by the rocks, she laid against the wall of her house until midnight. Tiara was unconscious when she was evacuated to Yowari Regional General Hospital, and remains traumatized from the disaster.
Yeni said only 50 families had decided to stay on at the BTN Nauli complex, which was located in a flood hazard zone. Before the flood, 143 families, or around 500 residents, lived in the complex.
Yeni’s family received government assistance to repair their severely damaged house for a cost of Rp 50 million. They were not offered relocation to a safer place. In the end, Yeni and her family decided to move to a house in Block 3 that had been abandoned by its traumatized owner.
“The government only offered assistance for repairing houses without preparing a new settlement location. We received no other solutions, so we decided to return to the complex, even though it is located in a red zone [for flooding],” Yeni said. (NDU/FLO/FAI/ICH/ILO/DIV/FRD/JOG)
This article was translated by Hyginus Hardoyo.