Indonesia's South Kalimantan province hit by possibly worst floods in 50 years: President Joko

Ten cities and regencies in the province battered by heavy rain since earlier this month have been affected. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SINGAPORE - Indonesia's President Joko Widodo on Monday (Jan 18) travelled to South Kalimantan to witness what he described as possibly the worst flooding in 50 years in the area.

At least 15 people have died and nearly 40,000 displaced as the country comes to grip with yet another natural disaster while grappling with surging Covid-19 cases.

Ten cities and regencies in the province battered by heavy rain since earlier this month have been affected. The floods inundated 24,379 houses and forced 39,549 residents out of their homes as at Sunday, said Mr Raditya Jati, spokesman for the Disaster Management Agency, better known locally by its acronym, BNPB.

The provincial government declared a state of emergency on Jan 14 and rescuers have distributed rubber boats and other basic necessities such as food, mattresses and blankets.

In pouring rain, Mr Joko visited flooded villages, witnessed overflowing rivers and inspected damaged bridges. He was also briefed on efforts to cope with the situation.

"This is the biggest flood in South Kalimantan province in maybe more than 50 years. The rainfall has been very high for almost 10 consecutive days," he said.

"I would like to express my deep sorrow for the victims who died," he added.

Severe flooding has also occurred in at least two other provinces.

In Manado, the capital of North Sulawesi province, six people were killed and 500 forced out of their homes in floods and landslides caused by heavy rain and unstable soil conditions as of Monday, the BNPB said. Earlier this month, 36 people were killed in floods and landslides in Sumedang regency, in West Java.

Natural disasters are common in Indonesia, and floods happen yearly during the rainy season, which is expected to continue until mid-February.

Quakes and volcanic eruptions occur frequently in the sprawling archipelago which sits on the intersection of several tectonic plates and within the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo visiting South Kalimantan on Jan 18, 2021. PHOTO: THE PRESS, MEDIA AND INFORMATION BUREAU OF THE PRESIDENTIAL SECRETARIAT, INDONESIA

Last Friday, a powerful and shallow 6.2-magnitude quake rattled West Sulawesi province, killing 84 people. It left more than 19,000 homeless in the worst-hit regencies of Mamuju and Majene as of Monday (Jan 18).

More than 900 people were injured, including 253 seriously. Photos and footage distributed by the BNPB showed damaged roads, collapsed buildings and victims trapped under rubble.

Aid including tents, bottled water and ready-to-eat food have already been distributed to survivors.

In an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the country - the worst-affected in South-east Asia, with more than 917,000 cases and around 26,000 fatalities - rapid tests were carried out at evacuation camps, and vulnerable groups were kept away from young people, a lower-risk group.

On Saturday, Mount Semeru in East Java erupted, sending hot air and ash clouds cascading 4.5km down over its crater. Villagers living on the slopes of the active volcano and near rivers were warned to stay alert as rain could trigger cold lava floods. On Monday, Mount Merapi in Central Java also erupted, releasing steaming hot clouds 1km from the crater.

In response to the catastrophic South Kalimantan floods and devastating Sulawesi quake, the Singapore Red Cross (SRC) has committed an initial $150,000 to support relief and recovery operations. The SRC will be launching a public fund-raising appeal following the double disasters in Indonesia.

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