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'I felt more like a triathlete than a reporter'

Straits Times correspondent Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja sitting in 15-year-old Aldi’s dinghy. The teen pulled him across a flooded street six times to interview people affected by the floods. (ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA)

Publication Date : 18-01-2013

 

Reporter wades through Jakarta's floods to get his story

 

I have been a reporter for 15 years, but I felt more like a triathlete as I covered the Jakarta floods yesterday.

I went to the worst-hit area, Kampung Melayu in the eastern part of Jakarta.

One of the lowest lying areas in the city, some of its residents live on the river bank where the flood waters rose, at one point, as high as 5m.

To get there, first, I got on an ojek, or motorcycle taxi, but I had to get off near Kampung Melayu.

I waded the rest of the way for about 10 minutes, past a few street corners, to reach the flooded area.

Most of the streets there have already been turned into rivers after days of rain inundated a wide swathe of Jakarta.

When I got there, I could see rubber boats and canoes all being used by rescue teams to evacuate residents.

Some other residents were using water craft of their own - from inflated beds to dinghies - to transport their own relatives.

I came across a teenager, Aldi, 15, who was lounging in a yellow dinghy.

On seeing me, he shouted out: "5,000 rupiah for a ride. You want?" The amount is about 50 US cents.

I readily agreed and jumped into the dinghy.

For the next 30 minutes, the teenager - soaking wet - pulled me across the flooded street six times for me to do my interviews. In all, I paid him 30,000 rupiah ($3) for his efforts.

Some residents did not want to be evacuated, preferring to move to the second floor of their homes to wait for the water to subside.

I noticed that when a rubber boat - with rescuers on board - came by, one member of the family would be dispatched to collect food from the evacuation centre before returning to the family's flooded house with the supplies.

"There are 30 families who declined to be evacuated there," said Elba Naraheda, a volunteer from Greenpeace Indonesia, pointing to a neighbourhood of about a hundred houses.

Those who chose to stay put instead asked for things like antiseptic solution and anti-diarrhoea medicine, Elba added.

As for the children, they were having a splashing good time in their new water playground.

One of them, Febi, 12, had fun jumping from the top of a small truck stranded along Jalan Kampung Melayu Kecil.

A resident, Eti Setiawati, 52, said yesterday that the flood this time was almost as bad as that nearly six years ago.

"We may be seeing a repeat of the 2007 great flood. It's not that bad yet, but we don't know how much worse it may get in the coming days," she told this reporter at an evacuation centre in Kampung Melayu.

Earlier yesterday, my car stalled in the rising waters as I was heading home with my children after their principal decided to send everyone home.

I had no choice but to leave the car.

In the afternoon, I borrowed my father's car so I could go to tow my car back, but making my way there took place at a snail's pace.

At an elevated toll road, cars parked haphazardly along the narrow shoulder blocked my progress. Worse, motorcycles - these are not allowed on toll roads - added to the jam.

It took about two hours before I finally reached my car. On a normal day, the journey would have taken no more than 30 minutes.

Still, I was happy to get my car back.

And when I finally towed it back to my house yesterday evening, I felt like I had crossed the finish line.

 

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