FEB 4 2007


340,000 flee deadly floods in Indonesia's capital Feb 4




Boats ferried supplies to desperate residents of Indonesia's flood-stricken capital on Sunday as rivers burst their banks following days of rain. At least 20 people have been killed and almost 340,000 forced from their homes, officials said.


Hundreds of people scrambled to the second floors of their houses to escape the rising waters. Some found themselves trapped, while others refused to leave despite warnings that the muddy flood waters running over 13 feet deep in places may rise further in the coming days.


"Jakarta is now on the highest alert level," said Sihar Simanjuntak, an official who monitors the many rivers that crisscross this city of 12 million people. "The floods are getting worse."


Indonesia's meteorological agency is forecasting two weeks of rain.


The government dispatched medical teams on rubber rafts into the worst-hit districts to prevent outbreaks of disease among residents without clean drinking water.


Edi Darma, an official at Jakarta's Flood Crisis Center, said 20 people had died in Jakarta and surrounding towns as of late Sunday, mostly either by drowning or electrocution.


Survivors told of being stranded by the surging waters. "We were starving for two days," said Sri Hatyati, who was rescued from her house by soldiers on a dinghy Sunday on the city's western outskirts. "All we had were dried noodles. We were unable to go anywhere."


Incessant rain that starting falling Thursday on Jakarta and the hills south of the city triggered the floods, the worst in recent memory. Tens of thousands of homes, school and hospitals in poor and wealthy districts alike were inundated.


Authorities have cut off electricity and the water supply in many districts.


Dr. Rustam Pakaya, from the health ministry's crisis center, said nearly 340,000 people had been forced from their homes. He said many of the homeless were staying with friends or family or at mosques and government buildings.


"We fear that diarrhea and dysentery may break out, as well as illnesses spread by rats," Pakaya said. "People must be careful not to drink dirty water."


There was little rainfall over Jakarta on Sunday, but downpours over the southern hills caused rivers to swell across the city, prompting authorities to open flood gates.


An Associated Press photographer saw Red Cross officials ferrying water and food to people downtown who were cut off by the floods in downtown districts. TV footage showed people standing on roofs, and cars overturned.


Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso, who was criticized when the city was flooded five years ago, blamed deforestation in Puncak, saying it had destroyed water catchment areas.


Environment Minister Racmat Witoelar blamed poor urban planning.


Authorities issue building permits "even though they clearly violate environmental impact studies," Witoelar said, according to The Jakarta Post.


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. Some residents refuse to move, others say they cannot afford to live elsewhere.




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