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Freak Storms Indonesia*

Scores die in freak Indonesian storms

August 1, 2001 Posted: 2:04 AM EDT (0604 GMT)

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Scores of people are believed to have been killed and hundreds are missing after freakish weather struck a remote Indonesian island that is popular with surfers.

Incessant rain triggered floods and landslides that buried as many as five villages on Nias island, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) off the northwest coast of Sumatra and more than 1,300 kilometres (820 miles) northwest of the capital, Jakarta.

The official death toll is 60 and expected to rise. Hundreds of villagers remain unaccounted for, according to a local government official. The landslides happened on Tuesday but word has just reached Jakarta.

They could have been evacuated to safer ground or be swept by the flood, we do not know yet," Adjunct Senior Commissioner Syaherdam said by telephone from Gunungsitoli, the island's main town. Syaherdam, like many Indonesians, uses one name.

Because of the severe damage, communication is not possible with some of the worst hit areas. Bridges and lines of communications have been knocked out.

The regent's office on Nias told CNN that five villages on the center of the island have been partially wiped out. The Lahusa district was worst hit, with most of the missing and dead.

Rescue workers were on their way to the village of Sambulu, said another local official, Abdurrahman Nasution. He said at least 103 houses were destroyed in the landslide.

Search in rubble

Nasution said villagers were searching through the rubble for survivors and had reported that 62 people had been killed. The authorities were not able to confirm the death toll, he said.

"We will send aid soon," he added.

Although Indonesia is in the middle of its annual dry season, there has been an unseasonal amount of rainfall in parts of the country.

Nias is popular tourist destination because of its ancient ruins and quality surfing.

Officials and environmentalists say deforestation by loggers and villagers needing firewood contribute to the disasters.

(Original Len: 2252 Condensed Len: 2586)

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