Tue, 15 Jan 2002

Floods kill two, forces closure of Medan airport

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan

A flash flooding hit the North Sumatra capital of Medan for the second time in recent weeks on Monday, leaving at least two people dead and four others missing, and forcing the eight-hour closure of the city's international airport.

Thousands of residents in the country's third largest city were made homeless as their houses were inundated and some of them destroyed by floodwaters.

Parts of the Polonia airport's runways have been submerged, shutting it down, officials said. However, it reopened at 1 p.m. after the water had significantly receded.

A Boeing-737 plane belonging to Mandala Airlines was first to fly out of the airport for Jakarta at 1 p.m. after the eight-hour closure.

Risman Nuryadin, head of Polonia airport, said at least 28 flights were canceled during the closure, but said he could not specify the losses caused by the move.

The airport, which sees around 60 airplanes fly in and out daily, had also closed for more than 24 hours after similar floods in the city on December 29.

The ongoing floods followed heavy rains which started on Sunday night, swelling water levels of the Babura, Deli, Percut and Belawan rivers in the city.

The flooding affected at least six subdistricts of Medan -- Sunggal, Labuhan Deli, Amplas, Percut Sei Tuan, Medan Baru and Medan Denai -- where thousands of villagers were evacuated and accommodated in schools, mosques and offices.

In some places, floodwaters were between one and six meters deep.

Two people from one family drowned. They were 38-year old Zarni Caniago and seven-year old Kartini Dewi. Another four who were missing were identified as Tini, 10, Fauzi, 4, Karnia Dewi, 15, and Nurlela, 70.

Minister of Social Affairs Bachtiar Chamsah, North Sumatra Governor T. Rizal Nurdin and Medan Deputy Mayor Maulana Pohan visited flood victims in Sunggal, including the bereaved family of the two dead persons.

Bachtiar was scheduled to fly to Padang Sidempuan to distribute assistance to hundreds of victims of a fire that destroyed their shops and stalls there. But he had to postpone the plan after the Polonia airport was closed.

In Sunggal, at least 33 houses were destroyed or damaged when the Belawan river burst its banks early on Monday. As a result, around 100 residents in Pantai Harapan village took shelter at nearby schools and other safer areas.

Chamsah pledged Rp 5 million in assistance for a victim whose house was swept away by the floods.

Governor Rizal said he would soon set up a task force to investigate the main cause of the repeated floods.

He also promised to relocate houses located on the river banks to safer areas.

The local weather authorities warned floods would continue to affect the city and other parts of North Sumatra in coming weeks, saying the downpours are expected to stop by the end of this month.