SPOTLIGHT: A nun’s trip to a cyclone devastated Indonesian island

On April 3, 2021, the island of Lembata in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province was devastated by floods and landslides brought about by cyclone Seroja.

The cyclone killed at least 229 people — 183 in Indonesia and 42 in East Timor. There were at least 100 others reported missing.

The cyclone destroyed more than 20,000 houses and five bridges in Nusa Tenggara Timur and more than 12,000 people were evacuated to temporary shelters.

In East Timor, about 9,000 people were displaced while at least 10,000 homes were submerged in floodwaters.

The disaster caused over US$490.7 million in damages, with authorities describing it as “catastrophic.”

Efforts to relieve the devastating impact of the disaster came days after with donations coming from various sectors.

But even after the disaster, the people’s suffering was not over.

Thousands of people continue to be homeless on the tiny island of Lembata.

In the midst of calls for humanitarian aid, Sister Laurentina, a member of the religious Congregation of Divine Providence in East Nusa Tenggara, visited the island.

After a 15-hour trip on a ferry from Kupang to Lembata and another two-hour trip to the temporary shelters, the nun saw the condition of the people.

She said the villagers seemed to have “fallen down the stairs and are now suffering from serious traumatic sickness.”

People had to watch their homes being carried away by the floods.

Although “nothing is safer than staying in their small huts” these days, but without toilet, kitchen, or rooms, how could they live with dignity, said the religious sister.

She cited the story of an elderly woman named Martha who lost everything that she had.

She told the nun that she prefers to live in a hut in the middle of nowhere than in a government shelter.

“I am not a tough person to witness such humanitarian suffering,” said Sister Laurentina.

“How could I speak to a woman who lost almost everything,” she said.

“My eyes were soon filled with tears and I was a little bit ashamed of being so melancholic in front of that tough woman,” said the nun.

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