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‘When I woke, the house was full of water’: daunting cleanup follows Timor-Leste floods 

In Tasitolu, a suburb in the west of the capital, Dili, Batista Elo balances his young daughter on his hip as he stands in flood waters that reach up his thighs.

“I saved my family first and after that just got into the belongings, but there were some things that didn’t get saved,” recalls Batista of the wild Saturday night when his home was suddenly flooded.

“Now I have no place to live. I am staying temporarily at my brother’s house,” he said.

Batista is one of thousands who have been left homeless in Timor-Leste and neighbouring Indonesia after a tropical cyclone battered the south-east Asian nations over the weekend.

At least 157 people were killed – 130 in Indonesia and 27 in Timor-Leste, including 13 in Dili. Dozens more are missing.

People walk next to the floodwaters in Dili, Timor-Leste. Photograph: Antonio Sampaio/EPA

On Tuesday, even as flood waters were receding across Dili, Kanisius Elo’s home was still inundated with about five meters of dirty water.

“When I woke up, the house was full of water,” Kanisius recalled of Saturday night. He is worried that if the water level does not drop soon his home will be lost.

“If this water is dry in the next few days I will return to my house but if it doesn’t dry up for a month or two, then my house will also be destroyed.”

Neither Kanisius nor Batista had received humanitarian assistance from the government and are hoping the government will visit their homes so that they can see the reality of what is happening.

“I don’t blame anyone, but I hope the authorities will hopefully try to reduce this water in the future,” said Kanisius. “The big problem now is the provision of clean water and food.”

He also asked the government to repair the existing sewers in Dili, especially in the Tasitolu terminal section so that they would not make it difficult for the community in the rainy season.

“If the sewers at the terminal are good then it will be good here too.”

Kanisius Elo walks in floodwaters in Tasi-Tolu, a suburb in the north-west of Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste.
Kanisius Elo walks in floodwaters in Tasitolu, a suburb in the west of Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste. Photograph: Raimundos Oki/The Guardian

Around 8,000 people have lost their homes and have taken refuge in several places in Dili, said government spokesman Fidelis Leite Magalhaes at a press conference on Monday.

Fidelis said the government would work to repair several public roads that have been cut off due to the heavy flooding.

Almost all the offices in Dili were flooded. Normal work has been suspended across the city as civil servants focus on cleaning up the mud in their workplaces.

Peter Roberts, ambassador of Australia to Timor-Leste offered its condolences to those affected by flooding in Dili and around Timor-Leste: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of those who lost their life, or suffered injuries or damage to houses and businesses”

“We will continue to work with the government of Timor-Leste to support the response. Our Defence Cooperation Program responded to repair a generator at the Integrated Crisis Management Situation Room on 5 April, to help it continue operating”.

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