Indonesian rescuers mounted a desperate search Friday for those missing after flash floods and landslides sparked by torrential rains killed at least 43 people across the Jakarta region, leaving whole districts under water and thousands homeless.
Around a dozen people were still unaccounted for after record rains that started on New Year’s Eve pounded the capital and left swathes of the megalopolis, home to some 30 million, a wasteland of overturned cars and damaged buildings.
Some 400,000 residents have been evacuated to temporary shelters with many unable to return to their waterlogged homes, according to authorities.
“We’re encouraging people whose houses are still inundated to go to a safer place,” said National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Agus Wibowo.
The agency said 43 people had been confirmed dead in Greater Jakarta and neighbouring Lebak regency in the south of Java island.
Waters had receded in many areas and power, which had been shut off across many districts, was being restored.
In hard-hit Bekasi, on the outskirts of the city, swampy streets were littered with debris and crushed cars lying on top of each other — with waterline marks reaching as high as buildings’ second floors.
The government said Friday it would start cloud seeding to the west of the capital — inducing rain using chemicals sprayed from planes — to prevent approaching rainfall from pounding the region.
Using inflatable boats to evacuate residents trapped in their homes, including children and seniors, rescuers said they were targeting the hardest-hit areas of the city on Friday.
“We’re focusing our search on 11 locations still inundated today so we can evacuate more people,” said Yusuf Latif, spokesman for the National Search and Rescue agency.
Around Jakarta, an eight-year-old boy killed in a landslide and an 82-year-old pensioner were among the confirmed victims.
Others died from drowning or hypothermia, while one 16-year-old boy was electrocuted by a power line.
Most services have been restored although some commuter train lines were still suspended Friday.
Jakarta is regularly hit by floods during the rainy season, which started in late November.
But this week’s disaster marked Jakarta’s worst flooding since 2013 when dozens were killed after the city was inundated by monsoon rains.
“This year’s flooding was phenomenally bad because of the extremely high rainfall,” said Yayat Supriatna, a Jakarta-based urban planning expert.
But Jakarta’s myriad infrastructure problems, including poor drainage and rampant overdevelopment, worsened the situation, he added.
“Yes, the weather conditions were terrible, but this was exacerbated by awful urban planning,” Supriatna said.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has announced a plan to move the country’s capital to Borneo island to take pressure off Jakarta, which suffers from some of the world’s worst traffic jams and is fast sinking due to excessive groundwater extraction.