Jakarta declares emergency as water levels rise
Indonesia has declared a state of emergency in waterlogged Jakarta after days of rain forced thousands to be evacuated, left five dead and affected nearly 100,000 others in the capital city's worst flooding since 2007.
Weather officials yesterday warned that the worst was not over, with more heavy rain expected in the next few days. Army special forces and firemen have been deployed to rescue the stranded.
Overnight torrential rains caused flash floods yesterday, forcing many people to abandon their homes and rescuers in lorries or dinghies to go to the aid of people stranded in offices or by the road.
Jakarta's busy city centre was not spared. Aerial footage showed the iconic fountain at the Hotel Kempinski traffic circle in the heart of the city surrounded by a sea of muddy brown water.
At the nearby presidential palace, where water reached nearly calf level, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the always-smartly-suited Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa rolled up their trousers as they surveyed the grounds before welcoming Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, here on a state visit. Today, Japan's new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is due for a visit.
Dr Yudhoyono later climbed into a rubber boat and visited some of the affected areas. Residents cheered and applauded as he stopped at several places, including a village near the Ciliwung river, Jakarta's largest river, which has overflowed its banks.
"Jakarta is now being hit by major floods after not having one in the last five years. This time it seems worse... I have asked Governor Jokowi to do whatever it takes, and use all resources to handle this," he said.
More than 100mm of rain that fell overnight nearly paralysed the capital as the poor drainage system could not cope with the deluge.
Early morning traffic was brought to a standstill, preventing thousands of people from getting to work. By late morning, even train and bus services were halted.
People who ventured out could be seen wading through waist-high water near the city centre.
The rains could get worse over the next few days, weather officials warned, as they advised residents to stay indoors and to reduce electricity usage.
There have been frequent blackouts, which at times cut off power to pumps that are being used to drain floodwaters and also to communications towers that emit signals for mobile phones.
Jakarta sits in a low-lying area with 13 rivers and more than 1,400km of man-made waterways, making it prone to flooding, according to the World Bank. About 40 per cent of the city's land area is below sea level.
"The state of emergency will remain until January 27... and it means we get priority help and emergency funds to purchase necessary items," Governor Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, told reporters yesterday. Police have already deployed nearly 3,000 personnel and 93 rubber boats to help.
The Indonesian retailers' association has estimated losses of 460 billion rupiah (US$47 million) due to the flooding, said state-run agency Antara.
Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport remained unaffected though some roads leading to it were flooded. Its ports were also not shut.
The floods are a major test for Joko, who took office in mid-October and has made flood control one of his top priorities during his first 100 days in office.
Yesterday afternoon, he got a lift on a makeshift wooden cart after he visited the more severely flooded areas in the capital.
Pranksters sent out hoax text messages, including one which said that Joko had declared yesterday a public holiday because of the floods.
He denied this and instead appealed to the people to keep calm and not spread rumours.
The state of emergency, he explained, would help speed up the acquisition of tents, mobile toilets, water, blankets, fans and other necessary items without having to go through a tender first.
Already, several flood shelters have been set up across the city and are now housing some of the 16,000 people displaced by the floods.
One of those who did not go to work yesterday was Shirley Ho, 34, an accounts manager. She had been told to work from home instead.
The Singaporean, who has been working in Indonesia for two years, voiced the concern of many others when she said: "I'm very concerned about food running out. Already, some huge bottles of water are sold out in the mini-supermarket downstairs."