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Deadly floods bring Jakarta to near standstill

JAKARTA: Waist-deep floods brought the Indonesian capital Jakarta to a standstill yesterday, with roads impassable and thousands of homes under water.
The muddy waters paralyzed the city, which is home to 20 million people and already notorious for its chaotic traffic. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was pictured in the whitewashed grounds of the presidential palace with his trousers rolled up to his knees.
“Jakarta is flooded, hopefully there won’t be too many victims,” he told photographers, ordering military, police, and disaster officials to ensure public safety.
The monsoonal floods had driven more than 19,000 people from their homes, according to Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, and reports said two people had been killed on Wednesday, a two-year-old boy who was swept away and a 46-year-old man who was electrocuted.
Some roads to the airport were blocked and while many businesses across the city were forced to close, traders at some markets remained open, piling clothes and goods out of reach of the dirty water.
In the heart of the city, luxury hotels and the French, German and British embassies were surrounded.
Motorists trying to avoid the deluge went off-road, driving along pavements and central reservations, and heading the wrong way down one-way streets. In some areas children punted rafts along the roads, which looked more like canals.
Office workers snapped photos of the snarling traffic, while commuters lofted their bags above their heads to wade through the waters, or hitched a lift on passing carts.
“Jakarta today is a huge swimming pool. Everyone’s playing in the rain, walking in the water and laughing. The downside is, I have no idea how to get home, I might have to walk back three hours,” 32-year-old administrative officer Yohanna, who like many Indonesians goes by a single name, told AFP.
Authorities raised the flood alert to its highest level early yesterday, national disaster management agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said, describing the city as “besieged.”
“The situation could get worse in the coming days as the rain shows little sign of abating,” he told AFP.
But as rescuers rushed to evacuate residents, Welfare Ministry spokesman Tito Setiawan said the situation was “under control.”
“That’s our priority. We have sent out trucks and rafts to move victims whose homes were inundated to temporary shelters. We will also provide food, water and humanitarian aid,” he said.
Indonesia is regularly afflicted by deadly floods and landslides during its wet season, which lasts around half the year. Many in the capital live beside rivers that periodically overflow.