In Sodden Jakarta, the Big Cleanup Gets Underway

JAKARTA ~ Residents in Jakarta are sifting through mud and debris to salvage their belongings as floodwaters that had engulfed their homes in and around the capital begin at last to recede.

The slow cleanup operation got underway on Wednesday after days of flooding killed 50 people, according to new figures, and forced several hundred thousand more to abandon their homes.

However, some 263,000 people were still holed up in temporary safe shelters across Jakarta and the neighboring satellite towns of Tangerang, Bekasi and Depok, said Rustam Pakaya of the Health Ministry’s crisis centre.

An official at the centre said water levels in many parts of Jakarta had fallen significantly.

Social Services Minister Bachtiar Chamsyah said families of those killed in the floods were entitled to Rp2 million (US$220) in compensation.

“The social services department’s budget and equipment are very limited, so I hope people will join in to help others,” he said.

Residents, meanwhile, battled to recover what they could of their possessions.

Mud-covered piles of mattresses, clothes and pieces of wood and fittings torn from flood-devastated homes were strewn across alleys.

Widi managed to salvage a large framed photograph of himself and his wife and a meager bag of other belongings from the mud-plastered wreckage of their house in West Jakarta.

Others were already busy cleaning up and drying sodden belongings on their fences and roofs.

Some 200 people, mostly women and children, demonstrated outside parliament to demand Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso apologize for the floods and step down. He has been criticized for not doing enough to prevent the disaster.

Markets reopened, although there were fewer customers than normal and many people had to wade through the water to buy what they needed.

National Development Planning Minister Paskah Suzetta has estimated losses from the flooding – in infrastructure damage and loss in state revenues – at a minimum of Rp4.1 trillion ($453 million).

The insurance industry could face claims reaching more than Rp400 billion, said Frans Sahusilawane, chairman of the Association for Indonesian General Insurers.

Pakaya, from the crisis centre, said that by early Wednesday, there were no reports of serious diseases.

“What we have so far are mostly common diseases such as gastrointestinal disorders, common cold, respiratory ailments as well as skin irritations,” he said.

He warned people to maintain hygiene, saying that weakened body resistance because of the weather and conditions could lead to more health risks.

Officials warned of the risk of leptospirosis, which causes high fever and painful joints, and diseases such as diarrhea, cholera and typhoid.

The meteorology office said no substantial rains had fallen on the capital since midday on Tuesday but Governor Sutiyoso urged continued caution.

“We have to be prepared to anticipate (floods) until the end of the month,” he said.

He said that with the help of police and military, safe shelters were being built in each of the city’s five mayoralties to accommodate large numbers of displaced people.

More than 40,000 police, soldiers and volunteers have helped evacuate and deliver aid to around 340,000 people displaced by the flooding, some of whom have since returned home.

Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar has blamed the floods on excessive construction on natural drainage areas, but Sutiyoso said it was a “cyclical natural phenomenon.”

Old Batavia, the former colonial port under Dutch rule, from where Jakarta has expanded, was built on marshland and some areas of the capital are below sea level.

After devastating floods in 2002, plans were drawn up for a 24-kilometer eastern flood canal system.

So far only about a third of it has been built amid disputes over funding and the acquisition of land for the project.

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