In a low-lying riverside district of Jakarta, the capital, dead chickens floated in the same filthy floodwaters that women used to bathe...

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — In a low-lying riverside district of Jakarta, the capital, dead chickens floated in the same filthy floodwaters that women used to bathe children and wash clothes.

Men sitting on rooftops or balconies dangled hooks in the debris-filled water for fish amid the stench of raw sewage. An elderly woman called out to rescuers for food and water from her second-floor balcony.

Boys scavenged plastic bags and other recyclable waste to sell for pennies.

A boat ride with emergency workers Tuesday revealed the hardships residents are suffering five days after torrential rains unleashed floodwaters that have killed 44 people and chased hundreds of thousands from their homes in Jakarta, a city of 12 million.

While some parts of the city began drying out, water remained several feet deep in low-lying areas along riverbanks where tens of thousands of the poorest residents live in cluttered alleys.

The emergency workers delivered dried noodles, rice and fresh water to residents of central Jakarta’s Bendungan Hilir district, a mixed-income neighborhood.

Indonesian soldiers paddled the boat past abandoned furniture, people wading in chest-high water with plastic containers balanced on their heads and children swimming as if they were in a public pool. Some boys used a sofa cushion as a raft.

How to help


World Vision: Locally based group expects to help about 25,000 people through a resident World Vision team in the area. Donations can be made at www.worldvision.org or by calling 888-56-CHILD (562-4453).

CARE: To donate: 800-521-CARE (521-2273); www.care-international.org.

Mercy Corps: To donate: 888-256-1900; www.mercycorps.org.

Red Cross-Red Crescent: To donate: http://donate.ifrc.org/.

Flooding was 8 feet deep amid the simple, two-story cinder-block and brick homes. The district’s main market, hospital and most houses were inundated, forcing residents to move to upper floors. The fear of their homes being looted kept many from leaving.

Indonesia’s poor — a majority in the country of 220 million people — have borne the brunt of a recent string of natural disasters, including the 2004 Asian tsunami, which killed more than 160,000 people on Sumatra island.

This month’s flood, the worst in the capital in recent memory, was no exception.

Up to 38,000 other people in the southwestern district, which borders some of the city’s wealthiest high-rise apartments and sleek skyscrapers, are crammed into unhygienic shelters, officials said.

“We are sharing two toilets between 1,000 people,” said Nelly, whose family of nine awoke in the middle of the night Thursday when the river overflowed its banks 100 yards away.

The 25-year-old mother, who uses a single name, recalled rushing outside in panic as the water swept in.

“It came suddenly,” she said. “The water was up to my neck when I carried my daughter out above my head.”

Her 2 ½-year-old daughter has diarrhea. They sleep on the floor of a classroom with 30 other people.

Nelly and her family are too poor to move to higher ground in Jakarta, where floods are common during the annual rainy season.

For Rina, 27, a mother of two whose house remained inaccessible Tuesday, next week offers challenges enough. The school where she is staying is scheduled to reopen then, and she fears she will be kicked out.

“We just don’t know where we will go,” she said.

Officials are expecting most people to be able to return to their houses once the water recedes. The flood has caused little damage to city infrastructure, buildings or homes.

Residents in some parts of Jakarta began cleaning up their filthy homes as floodwaters began to recede today.

“The water is all gone, but the smell is awful,” said Fifa, 18, as she removed bits of wood and other rubbish from her house under bright, sunny skies. “But at least we can get back to normal now.”

Jakarta city spokesman Arie Budhiman said many residents were returning home. “I would like to say that the worst has passed us, but the weather can’t be predicted,” he said.

Electricity to much of the city remained cut off, and health workers warned that medicine was running short, raising fears of disease spreading among the displaced.

Unsanitary conditions were blamed for widespread skin problems and diarrhea, while health officials said they feared exhausted flood victims had become more vulnerable to dysentery, cholera or typhoid.

There was confusion as to the number of people in shelters.

Health Ministry official Dr. Rustam Pakaya said the evacuees fell Tuesday to 221,088 from almost 340,000 on Monday, as people began returning home.

But Eko Prasetyo, a spokesman from the National Disaster Coordinating Agency, put the number of displaced at 430,000.

He said the figure included a new wave of people forced from their homes by overnight floods in east Jakarta.

Rival government agencies often give different numbers of dead and missing during natural disasters in Indonesia due to poor communications and coordination.

“There is a shortage of baby food and blankets,” said one local official, Alamsyah, as he oversaw the cooking of rice and instant noodles at a shelter. “We need more supplies.”

The cost to the country is estimated to be $452 million, Planning Minister Paskah Suzzeta said, “mostly due to an inactive economy and closure of offices and factories.”

Citywide floods last occurred in 2002 in Jakarta, much of which is below sea level.

Environmentalists blame the flooding on rivers clogged with rubbish, overdevelopment and deforestation of hills south of the city.