Archive for Wednesday, February 7, 2007

As flooding eases, disease threats rise

February 7, 2007

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— In a low-lying riverside district of the capital, dead chickens floated in the same filthy floodwaters that women used to bathe children and wash clothes.

Men sitting on rooftops or balconies dangled hooks in the debris-filled water for fish amid the stench of raw sewage. An elderly woman called out to rescuers for food and water from her second-floor balcony.

Boys scavenged plastic bags and other recyclable waste to sell for a few pennies.

A boat ride with emergency workers Tuesday revealed the hardships residents are suffering five days after torrential rains unleashed floodwaters that have killed 44 people and chased hundreds of thousands from their homes in this city of 12 million.

While some parts of Jakarta began drying out, water is still several feet deep in low-lying areas along river banks where tens of thousands of the city's poorest live in cluttered allies.

The emergency workers delivered dried noodles, rice and fresh water to residents of central Jakarta's Bendungan Hilir district, a mixed-income neighborhood. Indonesian soldiers paddled the boat past abandoned furniture, people wading in chest-high water with plastic containers balanced on their heads, and children swimming as if they were in a public pool. Some boys used a sofa cushion as a raft.

Flooding was still 8 feet deep amid the simple, two-story cinder block and brick homes. The district's main market, hospital and most houses were inundated, forcing residents to move to upper floors. The fear of their homes being looted kept many from leaving.

Indonesia's poor - a majority in the country of 220 million people - have borne the brunt of a recent string of natural disasters, including the 2004 Asian tsunami, which killed more than 160,000 people on Sumatra island. This month's flood, the worst in the capital in recent memory, was no exception.

As many as 38,000 people in the southwestern district, which borders some of the city's wealthiest high-rise apartments and sleek skyscrapers, are crammed into unhygienic shelters, officials said.

An Indonesian boy wades through floodwater in Jakarta, Indonesia. Overnight downpours sent storm waters coursing back into many low-lying areas of Indonesia's capital on Tuesday, adding to the misery of some 340,000 people forced from their homes by days of flooding, witnesses and officials said.

An Indonesian boy wades through floodwater in Jakarta, Indonesia. Overnight downpours sent storm waters coursing back into many low-lying areas of Indonesia's capital on Tuesday, adding to the misery of some 340,000 people forced from their homes by days of flooding, witnesses and officials said.

"We are sharing two toilets between 1,000 people," said Nelly, whose family of nine awoke in the middle of the night Thursday when the river overflowed its banks just 100 yards away.

The 25-year-old mother, who uses a single name, recalled rushing outside in panic as the water swept in.

"It came suddenly," she said. "The water was up to my neck when I carried my daughter out above my head."

Her 2 1/2-year-old daughter has diarrhea. They sleep on the floor of a classroom with 30 other people.

Nelly and her family are too poor to move to higher ground in Jakarta, where floods are common during the annual rainy season.

For Rina, a 27-year-old mother of two whose house was still inaccessible Tuesday, next week offers challenges enough. The school where she is staying is scheduled to reopen then, and she fears she will be kicked out.

"We just don't know where we will go," she said.

Residents in some parts of Jakarta began cleaning up their filthy homes as floodwaters began to recede Wednesday.

"The water is all gone, but the smell is awful," said Fifa, an 18-year-old woman as she removed bits of wood and other rubbish from her house under bright, sunny skies. "But at least we can get back to normal now."

Jakarta city spokesman Arie Budhiman said the water was continuing to recede and many residents were returning home. "I would like to say that the worst has passed us, but the weather can't be predicted," he said.

Electricity to much of the city remained cut off today, and health workers warned that medicine was running short, raising fears of disease spreading among the displaced.

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