The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Sat, 12/18/2004 8:16 AM
Puji Santoso, The Jakarta Post, Pekanbaru
At least seven people have died during the past week as flooding hit more areas in Riau province, creating thousands of refugees at risk from deadly diseases.
Four people, three of them children, died after being swept away by strong currents in the Kampar, Siak Hulu and Rokan Hilir regencies, while three others were killed after dengue fever broke out in the Indragiri Hulu regency.
The flooding, which has affected Riau over the past month, spread to the Indragiri Hulu regency this week.
Fourteen districts in the regency were inundated by water, affecting an estimated 22,600 families, officials said.
Many schools had been closed due to flooding, while outbreaks of dengue had been detected in the area.
As of Friday, thousands of houses in the regency were inundated by water up to three meters deep in some places, forcing local residents to take refuge on higher ground.
Tarina, a resident from the Rawa Asri area, said flooding had long been an annual problem.
Similar flooding struck the area in November last year, destroying crops and leaving the residents, who were mostly farmers, without income from their vegetable crops, she said.
""I have to rely on money from my husband, who works as a construction laborer,"" said Tarina, a Javanese migrant, who lives in a migrant's complex in the regency.
Tarina said she agreed with the government's plan to relocate the migrants, as long as a decent location was found for them.
In the Redang subdistrict, the situation was even worse, with several houses and an elementary school building under three meters of water.
Rudi Antoni, the school headmaster, said that he would move lessons to a nearby village hall so that students' studies were not affected.
The flooding has also washed out roads, completely cutting off traffic between the Redang and Kota Lama areas.
Riau Deputy Governor Wan Abubakar visited the region on Friday. He said the flooding occurred because embankments protecting the area had collapsed.
The area was swampy and not fit for housing, he said. Repairing to the embankments and relocating the residents to higher ground, would ensure flooding did not reoccur.
Indragiri Hulu Regent Thamsir Rachman, who accompanied Abubakar on the visit, said that the flooding last year cost residents and the government Rp 10 billion (US$1.1 million) in material losses.
""We predict that we will suffer more material losses (this season) as Meteorological and Geophysics Agency (BMG) has estimated that the flooding will peak in January,"" Thamsir said.
Indragiri Hulu health office head Djasmudin Djalal confirmed a dengue outbreak had hit the regency following the flooding. Dengue had so far killed three out of the six people who had contracted it, he said.