Fresh floods bring more misery to Indonesian capital; 44 dead

Tuesday, February 6th 2007, 6:34 am
By: News On 6

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ Overnight downpours sent storm waters coursing back into some low-lying areas Tuesday, as authorities warned of the threat of diseases and anger mounted at the government's response to the disaster that has killed at least 44 people in the capital.

Authorities said flooding had receded in some areas, allowing more than 115,000 people to return home. However, about 220,000 people remained in temporary shelters, and electricity and water supplies have been cut to much of the city of 12 million people and its surrounding towns.

Jakarta police spokesman Col. I Ketut Untung Yoga Ana said the death toll had risen to 44 as of late Tuesday. Most victims either drowned or were electrocuted.

Meanwhile, rains triggered a landslide in a village some 100 miles west of the capital that killed six others, including a young boy, said Banten Police Chief Brig. Gen. Timur Pradopo.

In the capital, medical officials said there were shortages of baby food, clean water and medicine with reports of widespread skin disease and other problems caused by poor hygiene.

``We ran out of medicine yesterday,'' said Nuraini, a military doctor overseeing local relief efforts in the Central Jakarta district. ``Most people have diarrhea and are sick after being in the water for too long.''

Among them was Mohammed Syaifudin, 31, who said he swam through floodwaters outside his house that were more than more than 8 feet deep to get supplies and medicine for his wife, son and parents who had moved upstairs.

``I called my relatives for help, but their homes were flooded too,'' he said. ``We want to leave but don't know where to go.''

Flooding is estimated to have so far cost the country some $452 million, the country's planning minister said Tuesday. Paskah Suzzeta said the losses in Jakarta were ``mostly due to an inactive economy and closure of offices and factories.''

The floodwaters burst river banks throughout the city on Thursday, turning scores of districts, rich and poor alike, into lakes of debris and sewage.

``We live in modern times. People should have been warned,'' said Stefanus Lamury, who lives in a flooded-out residential area close to the city's center. ``No one should have died because of this.''

In scenes reminiscent of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, residents of Jakarta have waded through poor neighborhoods in water up to their necks, or floated on makeshift rafts bearing clothes and other salvaged possessions. Some have scrambled onto roofs to await rescue from soldiers and emergency workers in rubber dinghies from floodwaters as deep as 12 feet.

Soldiers on boats delivered instant noodles and rice to those who were choosing to stay on the upper floors of their homes, refusing to evacuate out of fears looters may target their properties, said Army Capt. Tohar.

Most of those who fled their homes were staying at mosques, schools or government buildings, sleeping on the floor with little access to bathrooms. Communal kitchens also had been set up, but many complained of receiving little food.

``I guess this is just my fate,'' said Ponirah, a 37-year-old homemaker sleeping along with scores of others in the corridor of a government apartment complex, her own house immersed by water. ``We are given bread every now and again, but it is not evenly distributed,'' said Ponirah, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

Authorities earlier estimated that up to half of the city, which covers an area of more than 255 square miles, had been submerged in water reaching more than 13 feet deep in places.

City authorities were not collecting and releasing timely information on the extent of the floods or river levels, making it hard to get a complete picture of conditions across the city.

Residents in several districts said that water levels dropped or receded completely late Monday only to rise again after heavy downpours overnight. Most of the renewed flooding was reported to range from about 20 inches to more than 6 feet deep.

The country's meteorological agency said light rains were forecast over the next few days.

``The coming rains will not be as intense as those that triggered the big floods,'' said forecaster Ahmad Zakir. ``Nevertheless, at the moment rivers are still swollen. People have to remain vigilant for the next two or three days.''

Dr. Rustam Pakaya, head of the Health Ministry's crisis center, said the number of people forced from their homes had dropped Tuesday to 221,088 from almost 340,000 on Monday.

The government dispatched medical teams on rubber rafts to the worst-hit areas, where doctors treated people for diarrhea, skin diseases, respiratory problems and exposure after they had spent days in damp, dirty clothes.

The flood conditions also were favorable for spreading malaria, dengue fever and the bird flu virus, which has killed more humans in Indonesia than anywhere else, said Bayu Krisnamurthi, the country's leading avian influenza official.

Landslides and flash floods during the wet season kill hundreds in Indonesia every year, and the capital is not immune, but it has rarely _ if ever _ seen floods as bad as those in recent days.

Environmentalists blame the annual flooding on trash-clogged storm drains and rivers, inadequate urban planning, and deforestation of hillsides south of the city, often to make space for the development of luxury villas.

Low-lying river areas _ where thousands of poor people are crammed into shacks made of plywood and metal sheets _ are often the most devastated.

Jakarta's governor _ who promised action the last time citywide floods occurred in 2002 _ said he was not responsible, insisting they were part of a natural cycle of extreme weather every five years.

``There is no point in throwing abuse around,'' Gov. Sutiyoso told el-Shinta radio station, responding to growing anger at his handling of the crisis.

``I was up till 3 a.m. this morning trying to handle the refugees,'' said Sutiyoso, who also goes by a single name.