Floodwaters inundate presidential palace, thousands of buildings in Jakarta

Updated February 26, 2020

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JAKARTA: Trucks are seen submerged along a highway on Tuesday.—Reuters
JAKARTA: Trucks are seen submerged along a highway on Tuesday.—Reuters

JAKARTA: Floods that have crippled much of Indonesia’s capital worsened on Tuesday, inundating thousands of homes and buildings, including the presidential palace, and paralysing transport networks, officials and witnesses said.

Overnight rains caused more rivers to burst their banks in greater Jakarta starting on Sunday, sending muddy water up to 1.5 metres deep into more residential and commercial areas, said Agus Wibowo, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency’s spokesman.

Floodwaters entered parts of Indonesia’s presidential palace complex on Tuesday morning but the situation was brought under control with water pumps, said Bey Machmudin, an official at the Presidential Office.

The heavy downpour that hit the capital on Sunday had submerged the state-run Cipto Mangunkusumo hospital, the country’s largest hospital, damaging medical machines and equipment, Wibowo said.

Wibowo said the floods on Tuesday inundated scores of districts and left more than 300 people homeless, forced authorities to cut off electricity and paralysed transportation, including commuter lines, as floodwaters reached as high as 1.5 meters (5 feet) in places.

Television footage showed soldiers and rescuers in rubber boats struggling to evacuate children and the elderly who were holding out on the roofs of their squalid houses. Indonesia’s meteorological agency is predicting rain for the next two weeks. The flooding has highlighted Indonesia’s infrastructure problems.

Jakarta is home to 10 million people, with a total of 30 million in its greater metropolitan area. It is prone to earthquakes and flooding and is rapidly sinking due to uncontrolled extraction of groundwater. Congestion is also estimated to cost the economy $6.5 billion a year.

President Joko Widodo announced in August that the capital will move to a site in sparsely populated East Kalimantan province on Borneo island, known for rainforests and orangutans.

Severe flooding and landslides that hit greater Jakarta early last month killed more than 60 people, displaced hundreds of thousands and forced an airport to close.

Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan, who was criticised when massive floods struck the city last month, blamed widespread deforestation in the southern hills, saying it had destroyed water catchment areas.

Seasonal downpours cause dozens of landslides and flash floods each year in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands where millions of people live in mountainous areas or near fertile plains.

Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan said more than 200 neighbourhoods had been hit.

“We are concentrating on mitigation. We have prepared all resources to be deployed,” he told reporters.

Dwikorita Karnawati, head of Indonesia’s weather agency, said data showed extreme rain events occurring with rising intensity in the past 30 years and with a higher frequency in the past 10 years.

“This needs to be monitored and managed because it is an indicator of global climate change that has a local impact,” she said.

Nana Setiawan, a 50-year old resident of East Jakarta, said his house has been hit by floods four times this year.

“I moved here three years ago, and as far as I know, normally the floods will only happen once a year or even once in five years. But this year it’s already been four times and today is the worst,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2020