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LEAD: Death toll from Indonesian flash floods rises to 84.

JAKARTA, Nov. 4 Kyodo


The death toll from flash floods that swept through a popular Indonesian national park rose Tuesday afternoon to 84, including at least seven foreign tourists, with at least 179 others still missing, officials said.

''We are still searching for the missing people, including several foreign tourists from the wreckage of damaged buildings and fallen trees,'' Edi Sofyan, spokesman of the North Sumatra Governor Office, told Kyodo News.

Another official at the governor's office said at least seven foreign tourists were among the dead. Adam Malik Hospital in the provincial capital of Medan told Kyodo that it has received the bodies of five foreigners.

''They came from Austria, Singapore, Switzerland, Germany and the United States,'' a hospital employee said.

The flooding occurred in the early hours of Monday when flash floods triggered by heavy rains since Sunday night hit the Bukit Lawang valley resort, which is part of the giant Mt. Leuser National Park and famous for its orangutan rehabilitation center, in North Sumatra Province's Langkat Regency.

Bahorok River, the popular rafting waterway which flows down from nearby mountains, burst its banks, sweeping away residential houses and kiosks selling souvenirs.

Floods and falling trees also destroyed small guesthouses and huts, which were mostly concentrated along the river bank opposite the town and upstream along the path to the orangutan feeding site, where many foreign backpackers were staying.

Sofyan said the death toll is likely to increase as many people are still missing.

Media reports quoted Langkat Regent Syamsul Arifin as saying the Bahorok Jungle, where the resort is located, will be temporarily closed to tourists.

''For the next six months, the park will be closed for tourism activities until measures are taken to prevent a similar disaster from happening again in the future,'' Arifin said.

The closure of the park, which is the third largest tourism spot in North Sumatra after the volcanic crater Lake Toba and the picturesque hill town of Brastagi, will affect 2,179 local villagers or 593 households.

''Tourism is the main source of income for Bukit Lawang villagers,'' Bukit Lawang Village Chief Yusmailina told the Jakarta-based private radio station Elshinta.

Many visitors, especially foreigners who frequently stay for months, use Bukit Lawang as the base for trekking or short walks through rubber and cocoa plantations and forests.

Arifin has cited ''systematic illegal logging and land clearing'' of 42,000 hectares of the jungle as the cause of the incident.

Longgena Ginting, executive director of the nongovernmental organization Indonesian Environmental Agency, also told the state-run news agency Antara that the area ''has been seriously damaged'' since before the flash floods.

''Even a military foundation has cleared some hectares of the land in the jungle to open an oil palm plantation,'' Ginting said, adding that illegal logging accounts for 80% of the country's timber.

Paulus Agus Winarso, a weather expert at the Jakarta-based Meteorological and Geophysics Agency, said land in the area has lost the ability to absorb water because of the logging of Bukit Lawang forests.

''That's why I was not surprised to hear news reports that the flash floods washed away large trees because their roots were not strong enough to resist the water,'' he said, adding that global climate change has also played a role in the disaster.

It was not immediately clear whether the floods also affected the orangutan rehabilitation center, which was set up in 1973 to help the primates readjust to the wild after captivity.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Date:Nov 10, 2003
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