Thursday January 17, 2013
Floods swamp Indonesia capital, 19,000 homeless
JAKARTA: Floods which have made more than 19,000 people homeless and killed three brought parts of the Indonesian capital to a standstill Thursday, with even the president forced to roll up his trousers.
The waist-deep muddy waters paralysed much of the centre of Jakarta, home to 20 million people and already notorious for its chaotic traffic.
Drivers were stuck in snaking queues for hours in the morning and cyclists pushed bikes with only the handlebars and seats visible.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was pictured in the grounds of the presidential palace with his trousers rolled up to the knee, brown water lapping his calves and threatening to flood the shrubbery.
"Jakarta is flooded: hopefully there won't be too many victims," he told photographers, ordering military, police and disaster officials to ensure safety.
The monsoon floods had driven more than 19,000 people from their homes, according to Jakarta governor Joko Widodo.
National disaster management agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the death toll rose to three when a 35-year old man was electrocuted on Thursday. A two-year old boy was swept away and a 46-year-old man was electrocuted earlier this week.
The waters started to recede in the afternoon but floods remained in some areas including the central business district, where luxury hotels and the French, German and British embassies were surrounded.
Motorists trying to avoid the deluge drove along pavements and central reservations, or headed the wrong way down one-way streets.
In some areas children punted rafts along roads which looked more like canals.
"Jakarta today is a huge swimming pool. Everyone's playing in the rain, walking in the water and laughing. The downside is, I have no idea how to get home, I might have to walk back three hours," 32-year-old administrative officer Yohanna, who uses a single name, told AFP.
Authorities raised the flood alert to its highest level early Thursday, said disaster agency spokesman Nugroho, describing the city as "besieged".
"The situation could get worse in the coming days as the rain shows little sign of abating," he told AFP.
But as rescuers rushed to evacuate residents, welfare ministry spokesman Tito Setiawan said the situation was under control.
"We have sent out trucks and rafts to move victims whose homes were inundated to temporary shelters. We will also provide food, water and humanitarian aid," he said.
Indonesia is regularly afflicted by deadly floods and landslides during its wet season, which lasts around half the year, and many in the capital live beside rivers which periodically overflow.-AFP