JAKARTA: Indonesia's disaster agency warned on Thursday (Jan 2) of more deaths after torrential rains pounded the Jakarta region, triggering floods and landslides that killed at least 29 and left vast swaths of the megalopolis underwater.
As of Thursday morning, over 62,000 people were evacuated in Jakarta alone, disaster mitigation agency spokesman Agus Wibowo said, although later in the day he told news channel Metro TV the number of evacuees were down to around 35,000 people.
Images from across the region showed waterlogged homes and cars covered in muddy floodwaters, while some people took to paddling in small rubber lifeboats or tyre inner-tubes to get around.
In Bekasi, on the outskirts of the city, receding waters gave way to scenes of swampy streets littered with debris and crushed cars lying on top of each other, with waterline marks reaching as high as buildings' second floors.
"I saw the water coming and it just kept getting higher and higher," said Deddy Supriadi, after a local river overflowed on the first day of 2020.
"It swept away 40 or 50 cars that were parked right here," he told AFP.
Rescuers used inflatable boats to evacuate residents still trapped in their homes, including children and seniors.
TV images showed the dramatic rescue of a baby saved by disaster personnel who waded through chin-deep water to the family's home and carried the infant away to safety in a small plastic tub.
"We've been rescuing newborns, mothers who just gave birth and babies trapped in houses without food," said Yusuf Latif, spokesman for the National Search and Rescue agency.
"In some places, the rescue operation was quite challenging and difficult. The water was deep with a strong current. Some alleyways were so narrow that it was hard for our inflatable boats to pass through," he added.
Across the city, kids took the opportunity to swim in the floodwaters while some people grabbed fishing rods.
"I saw people were fishing here so I followed them," said 28-year-old Agung Rosiadi.
"There were lots of fish before but I don't know why they're all gone now," he added.
At least 26 people died in greater Jakarta, while three more were killed by flash floods in neighbouring Lebak regency in the south of Java island, according to the local disaster agency.
Police in Lebak said on Thursday they were searching for as many as eight people who could still be missing.
"We hope the toll won't keep going up," Social Affairs Minister Juliari Peter Batubara told reporters earlier on Thursday.
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.
"The floods hit without warning," Munarsih, who goes by one name, said from her waterlogged neighbourhood in Jakarta's western outskirts where dozens of families fled to safety.
"The water came very fast and it rose quickly. We couldn't manage to get our stuff out, including my car," she added.
Umar Dani, 52, and his family were evacuated overnight from his home in East Jakarta on a rubber boat after water levels rose up to his neck.
"It has not flooded for so long here. We didn't have the chance to bring anything," he said. "I have to live on the streets now."
Stories about animal rescues went viral online, including a dog chained to a fence that was plucked from certain death, while a drenched rat was filmed taking refuge on a floating plastic sandal.
On Wednesday, electricity was switched off in many Jakarta districts to prevent more electrocutions, with some train lines and one airport also shut. By Thursday, most service had returned to normal.
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo told reporters on Thursday that evacuation and safety procedures should be prioritised, and called for more coordination between city administrations and the central government.
On his Twitter page, Widodo blamed delays in flood control infrastructure projects for the flooding. He said some projects have been delayed since 2017 due to land acquisition problems.
"EXTREME WEATHER" EXPECTED
Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan said authorities deployed hundreds of pumps to suck water from residential areas across the capital, which had allowed some people to return home.
"They want to return home immediately and start cleaning up their houses as soon as they are able to enter their houses as water recedes," Baswedan told reporters during a visit to a densely populated area in East Jakarta affected by the flood.
Residents waddled through murky water to see the governor while workers pumped water out of the area into a nearby river.
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The mitigation agency said on its Twitter page that water levels have come down in a few affected areas, showing pictures of streets covered by mud and littered with debris.
Authorities however warned people to remain vigilant as "extreme weather" is expected to continue until Jan 7.
Dwikorita Karnawati, head of the Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), told reporters separately that heavy rainfall may continue until mid February.
Television footage on Thursday showed rescuers in the nearby city of Tangerang evacuating residents, guiding them across a strong current by holding on to a rope.
The disaster marked Jakarta's worst flooding since 2013 when dozens were killed after the city was inundated by monsoon rains.
The city is regularly hit by floods during Indonesia's rainy season.
The government announced last year that it is relocating the capital to East Kalimantan province on Borneo, though the planning ministry pledged that the government will invest US$40 billion in modernising Jakarta.