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36 die, 220,000 homeless in Jakarta flood

The deluge affects about 75% of the Indonesian capital. Forecasters predict more heavy rain.

February 06, 2007|Paul Watson | Times Staff Writer

JAKARTA, INDONESIA — Floodwaters began to recede today in parts of this capital city, but with more heavy rain expected, everyone from the poor in their tin shacks to the rich in their mansions remained threatened.

After another night of heavy rain, Jakarta was sunny this morning. At least 36 people have died in five days of flooding and one person is missing, Indonesian police said Monday.

More than 220,000 people are homeless, tens of thousands are relying on food handouts in camps, and health officials fear an outbreak of waterborne diseases such as dysentery and typhoid.

The deluge has affected about 75% of this sprawling city of about 13 million people, flooding tens of thousands of homes, and muddy water has swamped streets beneath the gleaming steel-and-glass towers of the capital's center.

Thousands have taken refuge in mosques and schools to escape water as high as 12 feet. Police teams in inflatable boats searched for elderly and sick survivors who needed help getting out; civilians who tired of waiting used anything that could float to rescue others.

Several of the 36 dead were victims of electrocutions, so authorities have cut power to large parts of the city, forcing some schools and businesses to close. Five-star hotels, some of them battling floodwaters, are full of well-heeled Jakartans who have fled their homes.

Dozens of banks are closed, and many automated teller machines have been shut down, making it difficult for those who have money to get it.

Fearing shortages, shoppers continued to stock up on food, emptying large grocery stores of all but the most withered lettuce and other vegetables.

Government ministers promised they would put as much rice on the market as necessary to prevent a sudden jump in prices. Runaway inflation, sparked by Asia's financial meltdown in 1998, helped bring down the authoritarian regime of President Suharto.

Authorities are acutely aware that public anger is growing with each day of the disaster. Jakarta Gov. Sutiyoso, who uses one name, said he shouldn't be held responsible for the effects of a "natural phenomenon."

"There is no point in throwing abuse around," he told a local radio station Monday.

Trash buildup and poor infrastructure were blamed for contributing to the overflow of some of the 13 rivers in the capital, which suffers flooding about every five years.

On Friday, the first day of the deluge, about 10 inches of rain fell in Jakarta. Even heavier rain at higher altitudes contributed to the flooding, as the runoff swelled the rivers.

City planners have proposed a 15-mile canal to channel heavy runoff from the highlands into the sea. But bickering between authorities and landowners over compensation for property has delayed the project.

Less than five miles of the canal are finished, and the rest is not expected to be completed -- at an estimated cost of $110 million -- until at least 2010.

Officials have deployed dozens of pumps around the capital in a desperate attempt to clear the floodwaters, but weather forecasters predict the rain will continue for as much as two more weeks.

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paul.watson@latimes.com

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