Thursday, January 20, 2005

Thousands flee homes as floods paralyze Jakarta

Source: The Jakarta Post

Panic, fatigue and confusion were etched on Wagino's face, a resident of Kalibata in East Jakarta whose house on the Ciliwung river bank was swept away in Wednesday's floods.

"The flood came early at 3 a.m. and it destroyed most of my house. I don't know where to go for temporary shelter," Wagino said.

Wagino was not alone. Thousands of other Jakartans were forced to leave their homes due to massive flooding that engulfed many parts of the capital and paralyzed many roads in the city.

The official estimate reported that at least 8,000 residents across the city were forced to flee to temporary shelters on Wednesday as rainwater completely inundated their homes. No fatalities were reported so far.

"We have received a report that floods have claimed one life. The victim was reportedly electrocuted. But, we have yet to verify the report," said the secretary of the city flood and disaster mitigation task force, Soebagio.

The worst affected areas were Cipinang Besar Selatan, Kampung Melayu Kecil, Pondok Bambu in East Jakarta, Rawa Jati, Bukit Duri, Bidara Cina, Manggarai and Cipulir in South Jakarta, Petamburan in Central Jakarta.

The water level reached up to three meters in Cililitan Kecil, East Jakarta. Despite such dangerous water levels, some residents insisted on staying on their roofs and refusing to leave their homes for fear of looting.

Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso announced on Wednesday that the flooding in the capital had reached a critical level, only a step away from an emergency situation, when Jakarta residents living in flood-prone areas must be evacuated.

Jakarta has 78 areas that are prone to flooding, most of which are in North Jakarta.

"If heavy rain continues and the water level rises to an alarming level, I will have no choice but to open the flood gate, which may cause flooding in elite areas, including the State Palace... I am sure that the President (Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono) would be able to understand this as an emergency situation," he told reporters during his impromptu visit to the Manggarai flood gate in South Jakarta.

Several temporary shelters prepared by the administration could not accommodate the massive number of flood victims, so many of them took up the sidewalks and edges of the road, like on Jl. Jatinegara Barat in East Jakarta. In Cipinang Besar Selatan, many residents even took refuge in the public cemetery.

Separately, Jakarta Police chief Insp. Gen. Firman Gani said that the police would immediately set up command posts in all flooded areas to help flood victims to evacuate and to supply food.

"We will deploy most policemen in subprecincts in areas that are affected by floods to help distribute food, evacuate victims, prevent looting and handle traffic," Firman said.

Jl. Kalibata, Jl. Otto Iskandardinatta, Jl. Kampung Melayu Besar, Jl. Jatinegara Barat, Jl. Daan Mogot and Jl. Cipulir Raya, were completely closed to traffic on Wednesday morning as the floods were too deep for vehicles to pass. Police rerouted the traffic to alternative routes. Some motorists were seen leaving their vehicles trapped in water.

"I decided not to go to the office today. I have been waiting for transportation for hours, but no one wanted to pass the inundated roads," said Neny, a resident of Pondok Kopi, East Jakarta.

Flooding is an annual occurrence in Jakarta. The worst flooding in recent history took place in 2002, killing 31 people and forcing 300,000 residents to leave their homes.