Indonesian authorities battle floods in capital

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Associated Press

Posted on January 17, 2013 at 10:02 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 17 at 10:06 PM

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Authorities were working Friday to repair a dike that collapsed amid torrential rains that have swamped the Indonesian capital, while thousands of police and soldiers worked to help victims of the flooding that has taken nine lives.

Police deployed at least 40 rubber boats, along with those from the army, to help evacuate or bring supplies to people still trapped by the floodwaters that have inundated much of the city of 14 million people since Wednesday, said Jakarta Police Spokesman Col. Rikwanto. Elsewhere, hundreds of soldiers were deployed to repair a collapsed canal dike that let floodwater pour into parts of downtown Jakarta.

Rikwanto said the current death toll of nine did not include three people who were reportedly swept into the basement of a building in central Jakarta, where a search was still underway.

The floods are the most widespread to hit the city in recent memory. Few areas were spared, from wealthy suburbs to riverside slums and gleaming downtown business blocks. Offices and schools were deserted and traffic ground to a halt. The international airport was operating normally, but travelers were finding it hard to get there.

"This is horrible," said Yanitha Damayanti, a bank teller stranded downtown. "For the first time in my life, downtown Jakarta has flooded."

The city has long been prone to floods, but successive governments have done little to mitigate the threat. Heavy downpours Wednesday and Thursday added pressure to rivers already swollen by a long monsoon season.

Deforestation in the hills to the south of the city, chaotic planning and the rubbish that clogs the hundreds of rivers and waterways that crisscross the city are some of the factors behind the floods. The city's vulnerability exposes the country's poor infrastructure even as it has posted impressive economic growth in recent years.

On Thursday President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had to stand in water up to his shins — his trousers rolled up — at the palace waiting for the arrival of Argentina's leader on a state visit. The president then used a rubber boat to inspect some parts of the inundated capital.

"I have no problem with the palace being flooded, "Yudhoyono said. "The most important thing is the people are protected."

In some places, water levels were up to 2 meters (6 1/2 feet) high. Seen from above, the main road through the heart of the city resembled a muddy river. Even as authorities struggled to rescue those trapped and provide them food and shelter, some were thinking of the economic cost.

"This is an extraordinary disaster," said Syamsuddin Basri. "I had to cancel many important business deals."

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