Gregorius Hide, a 70-year-old farmer in the eastern Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara, said the only warning he had of an approaching swirl of muddy water that engulfed his district this week was a smell of wet earth shortly before it hit.
Tropical cyclone Seroja, one of the most powerful cyclones ever to hit Indonesia, struck on Sunday killing 163 people, mostly on the islands of Lembata, Alor and Adonara, among the poorest and least developed parts of Indonesia.
The sprawling archipelago, which is made up of more than 17,000 islands, is used to dealing with disasters ranging from earthquakes to volcanic eruptions. But cyclones of this power have been rare, leaving many areas poorly prepared.
“There were no government warnings in the village,” said Gregorius, recounting how he managed to flee with his family before returning to help treat injured neighbours and assist those who had lost everything.
Authorities will need to learn fast from the disaster since Indonesia's weather agency (BMKG) has warned once-rare tropical cyclones are happening more often, with another potentially damaging cyclone due to hit this week.