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Braving Jakarta floods

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JAKARTA, Jan 30 — Widespread floods in Jakarta have killed at least eight people, paralysed air, road and rail transport and forced thousands to flee their homes, officials said on Wednesday.

Torrential rain has also struck the resort island of Bali, triggering landslides which have killed at least five people and destroyed several houses, witnesses said.

Monsoon rains have deluged Jakarta since the start of the week, submerging some areas in up to four metres (13 feet) of swirling, muddy water and giving rise to health fears as piles of rotting garbage wash into homes.

"We estimate around 40,000 people have fled, half of them becoming homeless," Endang DW, the city's head of social services, told Reuters.

"We have built temporary shelters and distributed food for them, but we are worried that diarrhoea and cholera might break out as lots of rubbish has been brought down by the floods," she added.

Landslides caused by days of heavy rains killed six people in southern Jakarta on Tuesday, while two more drowned when floods washed away their homes.

In Bali's northern regency of Buleleng, officials were still searching for several people who had gone missing following the landslide which hit the area on Tuesday.

Officials said no foreigners were among the dead and said the tourist precinct had not been affected.

In Jakarta, buses and taxis could not reach many areas of the city of around 10 million and dozens of international flights were delayed.

"We are deploying rafts to help victims in areas where the water level is very high. Today, we have also managed to drain water from the road to the airport so the traffic is better," Jakarta police spokesman Anton Bahrul Alam told Reuters. Television pictures also showed rescuers on makeshift rafts helping mothers and babies down from rooftops.

Worse to come?

The state-run Meteorology Agency has forecast more rain until the end of the wet season in February but so far conditions have not reached the levels of six years ago when chronic flooding killed at least 30 people.

"The floods in 1996 were the worst we ever experienced but we have only eight dead so far this year," Alam said, adding rescue services were working across the city.

Chronic flooding, mostly caused by clogged water ducts and poor drainage, hits Jakarta and other areas of the vast archipelago every year during the wet season, from October to February.

Paulus Agus Winarso, a meteorologist from the state agency, said what made things worse was that parts of Jakarta are built on what was once low-lying swamp.

"The flooding is also caused by violations of the city's master plan as many water catchment and greenbelt areas have been converted to other uses," he said.

Angry Jakarta residents complain that building houses in some areas of the city have made things worse in other parts, as drainage ditches have been filled in and more water diverted.

One resident, Budi, said it took him more than four hours from his home in a southern suburb to get to his central Jakarta office and he echoed complaints the government was doing little to solve the problem.