Jakarta Emergency Declared as Floods Swamp President’s Office

Indonesia declared a state of emergency in Jakarta as flooding brought traffic to a standstill in the city of 9.6 million people and swamped the offices of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The floods killed at least five people, including a two-year-old who drowned after falling off his bed, according to Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Agency for Disaster Management. Yudhoyono still met yesterday with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and is scheduled to host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today.

“Rain intensity will remain high until next week,” Governor Joko Widodo said yesterday. The state of emergency will stay in effect until Jan. 27 to allow authorities to respond quickly to floods, he said. More rain is expected today.

The floods have disrupted businesses, stranded travelers and prompted the evacuation of more than 15,000 people in low-lying areas of the capital, which contributes about 16 percent of Indonesia’s economic output. Water levels are higher than in 2007, when more than 600,000 people fled their homes amid electricity and telephone outages.

Jakarta’s main flood gate near the presidential office saw waters topping 10 meters, risking wider flooding in a key downtown area. Television footage showed Yudhoyono and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa with their pants rolled up wading through about 30 centimeters of water in the presidential compound.

Palace Flooded

“It doesn’t matter if the Presidential Palace is flooded,” Yudhoyono said in a statement sent by the disaster management agency. “The most important thing is that the public is protected.”

Yudhoyono instructed the police to safeguard affected homes and the army to send rubber boats, trucks and medical teams. Of the five deaths, two were from electrocution, Nugroho said.

The opening of the city’s main floodgate caused a 50-meter section of a canal to collapse, inundating streets in the central business district, Waskito Pandu, a spokesman at the Ministry of Public Works, said by telephone. Rivers broke their banks following heavy rain in the neighboring city of Bogor, Pandu said. Bogor is located at a higher elevation than Jakarta at about 190 meters to 330 meters above sea level, according to the city administration’s website.

Heavy downpours may continue until mid-February, Indonesia’s meteorology and geophysics agency said Jan. 16. It will probably rain again today, Mulyono Prabowo, head of the agency’s meteorology division, said by telephone.

Retailers Hit

Jakarta retailers lost about 420 billion rupiah ($43 million) after days of flooding halted distribution, Bisnis Indonesia reported, citing Satria Hamid Ahmadi, secretary general at the nation’s association of retail businesses.

Flights to and from Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta international airport were operating normally, Kristanto, a public relations manager at state-owned airport operator PT Angkasa Pura II, said by phone. The company arranged trucks and buses to pick up passengers who couldn’t reach the airport, he said yesterday.

Still, many travelers were stuck as rising waters made roads impassable, including Jl. M.H. Thamrin, Jakarta’s main thoroughfare. Cars sat abandoned and people waded through waist-deep water, pushing against a strong current in some areas.

Bill Barnett, managing director of Phuket-based hospitality consultant C9 HotelWorks, said he spent four hours trying to get to the airport before turning back to his hotel.

“While the airport might be open, you can’t get there,” Barnett said in an e-mail. “What a mess. Lots of people trapped at hotels and no one seems to know what to do.”

Jakarta sits in a low-lying area with 13 rivers and more than 1,400 kilometers of man-made waterways, making it prone to flooding, according to the World Bank. About 40 percent of Jakarta’s land area is below sea level.