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Face of Indonesia disaster relief efforts dies at 49

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia's disaster agency spokesman, who was respected for informing Indonesians accurately and quickly about the country's frequent natural calamities, has died. He was 49.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho died Sunday morning in Guangzhou, China, where he had been undergoing treatment since June.

Nugroho revealed in early 2018 that he had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and told he might not survive more than a year. As his personal tragedy unfolded, the year would become one of the worst in recent memory for natural disasters in Indonesia. Thousands died in a series of earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and landslides.

Nugroho continued to work while enduring intense pain, typing news releases from his hospital bed after undergoing chemotherapy, updating social media, holding press conferences and fielding calls from reporters at any hour.

"He was a hard working figure who served the media and public independently and tirelessly even while very sick," disaster agency chief Doni Monardo told The Associated Press. "He deserves to be called a humanitarian hero."

In a country where many officials are notorious for economy with the truth or outright distortion, Nugroho distinguished himself by marshaling facts, combating hoaxes and frequently drawing attention to lack of disaster preparedness and human-made factors that worsen natural calamities.

He was the public face of the thousands of people involved in Indonesia's arduous disaster relief efforts and affectionately known as "Pak Topo," a moniker that combined abbreviations of his name and the Indonesian word for mister.

His communications expertise earned him numerous awards in Indonesia and the wider region.

Nugroho was born in the central Java town of Boyolali on Oct. 7, 1969.  

He told Indonesian news site Kumparan in 2017 that he grew up in a poor family and was bullied at school for being shoeless and stupid. Nugroho said he was an average student at university where he studied geography but due to perseverance and diligence achieved a doctorate.

In a tweet in May, he likened the relentless spread of cancer throughout his body to the dispersal of ash from Bali's frequently erupting Mount Agung volcano.

He is survived by his wife and two sons.

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Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini contributed to this report.

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