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Indonesian Capital on Health Alert Over Floods

More than 50,000 residents in the Indonesian capital have sought treatment for conditions ranging from coughs to diarrhea after days of floods and authorities are monitoring for more serious diseases.

The flooding has displaced 340,000 people and killed nearly 30. Water in parts of the tropical city of nine million people has been up to 4 metres (13 feet) deep, causing blackouts, cutting telephone lines and blocking key roads.

Indonesia regularly suffers floods during the rainy season, but the devastation of recent days has been the worst in five years, and meteorology officials have warned the city could suffer heavy rains until the end of the month.

Tini Suryanti of the Jakarta health department said 170 medical posts had treated 53,108 patients over two days for mostly minor ailments. But Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari told reporters that authorities were on alert for outbreaks of more serious cases of diarrhea or diseases such as typhoid, cholera and measles.

Ketut Untung Yoga Ana, a Jakarta police spokesman, said 29 people had been killed, mostly electrocuted or drowned, while others died of sickness. "In Jakarta, Bekasi and Tangerang, 340,000 people have been displaced," Rustam Pakaya, a health ministry official, said by telephone, referring to two areas around the capital.

The Indonesian military said it had deployed more than 4,000 soldiers and provided dozens of dinghies and trucks to help flood-hit residents.

Bayu Krisnamurthi, head of a body tackling bird flu, said the flooding could spread infected poultry and complicate measures against the virus that has killed 63 people in the country.

After heavy overnight rain, sunshine bathed the capital on Monday, although an official at the country's meteorology agency said some downpours were likely with fluctuating intensity.

Floods in the city can often spring up in one area and recede in another as water from rain in upstream areas such as Bogor feeds into rivers criss-crossing the city.

Governor Defends Handling of Flood

Newspaper editorials questioned on Monday why more had not been done to prevent flooding in the low-lying city originally built on swampland after severe flooding five years ago.

Jakarta governor Sutiyoso told Elshinta radio that people in areas in danger of flooding must evacuate. He also brushed aside criticism of his administration's handling of the crisis. "This is a natural phenomenon that happens once every five years, like in 2002, and may happen again five years from now. What is important is how we minimize the losses."

Tap water was not available in several parts of the capital with wealthy residents hiring bowsers for deliveries. Many residential areas and major roads in West and North Jakarta, as well as at least one key intersection in the city center, were flooded, triggering huge traffic jams. The toll road to the airport was restricted to high-wheeled vehicles.

In Kelapa Gading, an area of North Jakarta with new malls and many young professionals, some residents evacuated using rafts made of wood, plastic water jugs and inflatable mattresses. Traders also used floats to sell goods door-to-door.

Around 2,000 people were camped under a flyover in East Jakarta, including a newborn baby boy. Some businesses closed because of a lack of phone lines, while others put up
key staff in hotels. "I've been trying to find a way to the office but everywhere is blocked by the floods," commuter Tumiran told Reuters Television.

In some supermarkets there was panic buying of essentials and meat prices rose, while the U.S. embassy advised its citizens to keep adequate supplies of food and drinking water at home.

But the rupiah was stable and stocks down just 0.4%, as economists played down inflationary worries. "This will not change the long-term inflation trend," said Purbaya Yudhi Sadewa of the Danareksa Research Institute.

Kartawi, an official at the Jakarta crisis center, said on Monday that water levels at sluice gates controlling flows into the city were almost back to normal.