Jakarta (AFP) Feb 04, 2007
Rescuers and volunteers on Sunday struggled to help nearly 340,000 Indonesians left homeless by devastating floods, triggered by heavy rains in and around Jakarta, which have killed 20 people. With more rain forecast, authorities put the capital on high alert and police deployed 12,600 extra personnel equipped with helicopters, inflatable boats and rafts to assist with evacuation efforts across the city.
Many residents escaped their homes on inner tubes, children's inflatable paddling pools and makeshift rafts, or by wading through the floods rather than wait for help to arrive.
Water levels reached rooftops in some areas as rivers and canals that criss-cross the city burst their banks following days of torrential downpours.
"The number of our personnel is enough, but what we are lacking are rubber boats for the evacuation of residents," said Jakarta police spokesman Untung Yoga Ana.
Ana said the floods in the capital and surrounding areas had so far left 20 people dead and one missing.
"The victims died because of disease, cold, electrocution or were swept away by the floods," Ana told the state Antara news agency.
Health ministry officials said 18 were killed and two missing.
At least 122 areas were seriously flooded in the city of 10 million people and the surrounding towns of Tanggerang Depok and Bekasi, Ana said.
Some 339,138 people in Jakarta, Tanggerang and Bekasi had left their homes to seek shelter, health ministry official Rustam Pakaya said.
It was a dramatic increase from the 190,000 reported displaced earlier in the day.
Television stations showed footage of inundated areas around the capital, mainly along the Ciliwung, Pesangrahan and Krukut rivers, with people being evacuated from their roofs or the second floors of their homes.
Helicopters dropped supplies to people stranded in the north of the city.
A key floodgate in East Jakarta could no longer block water flowing in from outside the city, staff there said, causing the city's main canal to burst its banks.
Members of the Indonesian Red Cross and other volunteers were delivering food to thousands of people stranded in their flooded homes, sheltering on roadsides or in public buildings and mosques turned into temporary shelters.
The floods have also forced the closures of several main roads across Jakarta, while at least two hospitals had to move patients to upper floors.
Many train services were cancelled or delayed.
Power and fresh water supplies were also cut to many areas, adding to the misery of people who opted to stay in their flooded homes.
More than 670,000 people were without electricity.
"This weather pattern will continue until at least the end of February," said Edison Gurning of the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency.
With rain continuing to fall in water catchment areas south of the city, Gurning said the floods could spread even further.
Residents of Kelapa Gading in North Jakarta -- a vast residential and commercial area inundated in 2002 by floods that killed 40 people -- said the latest disaster was far worse.
"Last time, the water was only knee deep, but yesterday it had already reached my midriff when I left," said 48-year-old Brahmanta, who managed to leave his two-storey house with his car when water levels were still low.
"I could stay on the second floor of the house, but there is no food, no electricity, no clean water, and the toilets cannot flush," Brahmanta said.
Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar has blamed the floods on excessive construction on natural drainage areas, Antara reported, but Jakarta governor Sutiyoso said it was a "cyclical natural phenomenon."
Witoelar said many developers had not paid enough attention to the ecological impact of their construction projects.
Old Batavia, the former colonial port under the Dutch from where Jakarta has expanded, was built on marshland and some areas of the capital are below sea level.
Floods also hit other regions of Java island and neighbouring Sumatra, causing five deaths and forcing at least 3,000 to flee their homes.
earlier related report
Swathes of Jakarta remained under water Saturday as thousands of people forced to abandon their flooded homes spent the night camped out alongside roads and in emergency shelters in higher areas of the city.
Witoelar said excessive construction on natural drainage areas had led to the floods, the state Antara news agency reported late Friday.
"There are too many malls in the capital city," he said.
Jakarta has undergone a construction boom recently as the economy recovers to pre-1997 Asian financial crisis levels.
The minister said many developers had not paid enough attention to the ecological impact of their construction projects.
Some 13 rivers crisscross Jakarta, with 78 zones considered at risk of easily flooding, including densely-populated districts.
Old Batavia, the former colonial port under the Dutch from where Jakarta has expanded, was built on marshland. Certain areas of the capital still remain below sea level and have weak drainage, with major tides resulting in the outflow of rainwater slowing down.
To improve the situation, authorities have for a long time envisioned constructing an East Jakarta Canal that would be some 24 kilometres (15 miles) long.
So far only about a third of it has been built and the city council earlier this month reportedly cut the budget allocated to buy land for the project.
earlier related report
He gropes about until he finds his daughters' school certificates by touch.
The Kampung Melayu district in the heart of Jakarta is used to floods, but this one is exceptional.
Salim was one of the many residents caught unawares as the waters burst through his house in the middle of the night.
His mobile phone workshop, at the entrance to his modest house, was a dismal sight, with upturned furniture strewn about in the muddy water.
"I am ruined," said the 42-year-old tradesman, adding he was not insured.
Outside his house, waters a metre (more than three feet) deep have turned the road into a river.
Carefree children play in the floods, using an inner tube as a float. Nearby, the Ciliwung river has burst its banks, swollen by days of torrential rain.
Misnar Gani, 70, said she had never seen such a disaster in half a century of living in Kampung Melayu.
She shares a house with her son and her daughter, Refrisa Rustam, who teaches at the school. They managed to move their furniture up to the first floor as the waters rose.
"Towards 2:00 am in the morning the river level was rising. There was no more light, the electricity was cut. At 3:00 am the water was up to our ankles, by 4:00 am up to our knees," said Rustam.
The water levels have since receded a little, but many houses remain flooded to their roof tops.
Thousands of people who lost everything as they fled the rising waters have gathered in mosques transformed into emergency shelters.
Others who have so far escaped the floodwaters brought food and clothing for the refugees, often travelling on foot as many roads are blocked.
At one aid post, a man using a megaphone called for others to help the displaced families. Volunteers from Muslim associations were ready to assist.
"We need milk for babies, nappies, drugs," said Nurasiah, who was busy sorting rations of donated rice.
Since 2003, French charity Action Against Hunger has been in Kampung Melayu making preparations for floods in agreement with local authorities.
Edward Turvill, who is in charge of the programme, estimated that the water level was even higher than during deadly floods in 2002 -- up to seven metres (more than 23 feet) in some places.
And the worst may be yet to come.
"We haven't had any clear information on the water levels upstream," Turvill explained.
"There is no hour-by-hour alert system to tell you what to do at the local level."
Rustam blamed municipal officials for the disaster, saying they had not sufficiently dredged the bed of the river where most residents dumped their rubbish.
"I do not agree with (Jakarta governor) Sutiyoso. He gives priority to building the busway (a lane reserved for buses) while there is a lot of sediment in the Ciliwung," she said.
Many other areas of the sprawling metropolis remain flooded, including upmarket districts.
Australian Stuart McDonald, 36, his wife and baby daughter were trapped by the floods for more than 24 hours in their house near the main Tendean avenue, without electricity.
"We had to evacuate to the second storey when the flood waters grew to one metre," he said.
"We didn't evacuate with the rescue team because it was too frightening with a young baby to evacuate with a ladder and by raft."
Source: Agence France-Presse
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