Torrential Rains Paralyze Jakarta

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JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Torrential rains caused flooding that paralyzed much of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, on Thursday, resulting in the deaths of at least four people and forcing the evacuations of tens of thousands of others.

Parts of the capital were under at least six feet of water, and even the presidential palace was not spared as waters rushed into the complex. In the central business district, water levels rose to at least 18 inches. Cars, buses and motorcycles were stranded in the streets, and soldiers in rubber boats rescued people trapped in their homes.

"This is the worst I've ever seen it," said Yudi Sukarno, 40, who has lived in the Bendungan Hilir neighborhood since he was a child. "There's all this asphalt and concrete, so the water doesn't have anywhere to go."

Local news broadcasts showed images of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono standing shin-deep in water that had flooded into the presidential palace.

"It's O.K. if the palace is flooded," Mr. Yudhoyono told reporters. "What is important is that the people are protected."

Thirteen rivers run through Jakarta, but poor drainage caused by garbage and the depletion of wells in a city already at or below sea level has intensified the impact of the flooding. The problems have recently been exacerbated by deforestation outside the city, which allows rainwater to flood in.

In central Jakarta on Thursday, muddy torrents filled major thoroughfares as evacuees tramped through waist-deep water in one neighborhood. A group of men balanced an air mattress with a sick elderly woman on their shoulders in an effort to get her to a hospital.

Flood walls in one neighborhood collapsed, inundating neighborhoods in east Jakarta. Residents in one area there, Kampung Melayu, were forced to the second levels of their homes, and some took refuge on a highway overpass. Others gathered in mosques, which were filled with people escaping the floods, according to volunteers.

The Indonesian Meteorological Agency said heavy rains were expected in the Jakarta region for the next three days.

"Because of the rain's intensity, we've declared an emergency situation from now until Jan. 27," Jokowi Widodo, the governor of Jakarta, told reporters.

He also declared a school holiday for children in the most flooded parts of the city. Many businesses have told their employees to stay home. The American Embassy posted a message on its Web site warning people to exercise caution, adding, "Walking and driving in flooded areas can be dangerous and should be avoided if possible."

Water levels on sluice gates upstream from Jakarta reached record levels, according to officials at the National Disaster Management Agency. Power failures prevented pumps from being able to drain the water from streets and houses.

Officials at the National Disaster Management Agency have encouraged residents to stay inside to reduce road congestion.

Residents filled the streets in many areas as vendors prepared food and sold fruits and vegetables.

"You can't go anywhere," said Sigit Hardisumarjo, who was buying fried bread and hoping that his home had stayed dry. "It feels like we're handicapped."

Despite the lack of movement, Mr. Sigit said, flooding is common during the rainy season. Many people in his neighborhood have elevated their houses to prepare for flooding like this.

In 2007, Jakarta saw some of the worst flooding in recent memory, with hundreds of thousands forced to flee.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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