9 Dead, 200,000 Homeless as Floods Inundate Jakarta

February 5, 2007

Flooding that has killed at least nine people and forced some 200,000 from their homes in the Indonesian capital showed no sign of abating Sunday, as overflowing rivers sent muddy water gushing into homes and shops across the city.

[Later published reports indicate that the death toll has risen to at least 25 and more than 320,000 people have now been forced to flee their homes].

Overnight rains caused more rivers to burst their banks across Jakarta, sending muddy water up to six feet deep into more residential and commercial areas in the densely packed city of 12 million people.

“Jakarta is now on the highest alert level,” said Sihar Simanjuntak, an official monitoring water levels at key rivers across the city. Two days of incessant rain over Jakarta and hills to its south triggered the city’s worst floods in recent memory Friday, highlighting Indonesia’s infrastructure problems as it tries to attract badly needed foreign investment.

Dr. Rustam Pakaya of the health ministry’s crisis center said that nine people in Jakarta and surrounding towns had died as of Sunday afternoon.

The waters have inundated more than 20,000 homes, school and hospitals in poor and wealthy districts alike, forcing authorities to cut off electricity and water supplies and paralyzing transport networks.

Government agencies are struggling to provide aid to the homeless, many of whom are staying with friends or family on higher ground, or at mosques and government agencies. Some are holding out on the second floors of their homes, refusing to be relocated by soldiers in rubber dinghies, officials said.

“Fortunately, people here are helping each other,” said Yusnizar, a 53-year-old living in Jakarta’s western outskirts where some 1,000 houses were awash with three feet-high muddy water. Like many Indonesians, Yusnizar goes by a single name.

Indonesia’s meteorological agency is predicting rain for the next two weeks.

Environment Minister Racmat Witoelar blamed poor urban planning for the disaster. “Authorities hand out (building permits) even though they clearly violate environmental impact studies,” The Jakarta Post newspaper quoted him as saying.

Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso, who was criticized when massive floods struck the city five years ago, blamed widespread deforestation in the southern hills, saying it had destroyed water catchment areas.

Seasonal downpours cause dozens of landslides and flash floods each year in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands, where millions of people live in mountainous areas or near fertile plains.

Jakarta is regularly struck with floods, though not on the scale as in recent days. Dozens of slum areas near rivers are washed out each year. Residents either refuse or are too poor to vacate the districts

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