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Flood Toll Rises, and Indonesia Braces for Disease

Much of this capital city was underwater on Tuesday, and the authorities warned of the possible spread of disease after torrential rains, overflowing //rivers and clogged sewers brought widespread flooding over the weekend.

At least 29 people were reported to have died from drowning, electrocution or disease. An estimated 340,000 people were driven from their homes, and hundreds of thousands remained without electricity or clean water in the worst flooding in Jakarta in years.

The skies cleared Monday, but meteorologists said more rain was possible in the days ahead, along with renewed flooding if rivers burst over their banks again.

Across lower-lying parts of Jakarta that are populated mostly by the poor, water that had risen as high as 12 feet still engulfed entire houses.

Officials estimated that 40 percent to 70 percent of this city of 12 million people had been submerged. From the air, it appeared in places that red tile roofs were floating on the brown water.

Some people remained crowded in the upper floors of their homes without sanitation, utilities or telephone service. Some of them said they were remaining in their inundated houses to guard against looters. Others took shelter in schools and mosques, where they slept crammed together like refugees in their own city.

Five-star hotels were overbooked with well-to-do residents who had fled the flooding. Telecommunications and Internet connections were disrupted at several foreign embassies.

Evacuations were carried out with rafts and dinghies as well as on high-wheeled, horse-drawn carts and, in at least one deeply submerged area, by helicopter.

Schools, markets and businesses closed as much of the city came to a standstill. Entire neighborhoods were accessible only by boat. For a time, the city’s airport was accessible only by high-wheeled vehicles.

In wealthier areas, some residents were paying for delivery of clean w ater. Didiet Haryadi, the director of Jakarta’s water company, said it would take two to three weeks after the flooding recedes to restore the city’s supply of clean water.

There was panic buying of supplies in some supermarkets that remained open.

Medical workers on rubber rafts patrolled the flooded areas treating people for diarrhea, skin diseases and respiratory problems. Officials warned of the possible spread of more serious ailments like dysentery, cholera, typhoid, malaria and dengue fever. “We have to be alert for diseases like typhoid, those transmitted by rats and respiratory infections,” said Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari.

Officials also issued warnings about the bird flu virus, which has flared again in Indonesia this winter, causing the government to consider imposing a state of emergency. Sixty-three people have died of the virus in Indonesia, more than in any other country.

Flooding every year during the rainy season paralyzes traffic in Jakarta, but this year’s flood was among the worst in memory.

Residents say the heaviest flooding comes in five-year cycles. In January 2002, flooding killed 21 people and forced 380,000 from their homes.

Environmentalists said the annual floods had been growing worse and blamed clogged drains, trash-filled rivers and deforestation of hillsides south of the city for development.

Critics also blame delays in extending a flood-control canal that carried excess water from overflowing rivers in this city where some neighborhoods lie below sea level.

Responding to sharp criticism in the press for lack or preparation, Jakarta’s governor, Sutiyoso, said that the flooding was part of a natural cycle and that there was nothing he could have done.

“There is no point in throwing abuse around,” Mr. Sutiyoso told a local radio station. “I was up till 3 a.m. trying to handle the refugees.”

Source-Bio-Bio Technolgy

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