Scores missing, dead after dam bursts in Jakarta

Rescue workers in Indonesia searched on Saturday for 100 people still missing after a dam burst sending a torrent of water crashing into a Jakarta suburb, as the official death toll rose to 77.

Hundreds of buildings collapsed when a wall of water broke through the man-made earthen dam early on Friday as residents slept in their beds.

“The impact of the Situ Gintung dam has killed 77 people and injured 179 people. A hundred people are still missing,” Health Ministry’s Crisis Centre head Rustam Pakaya said through a SMS.

He said it was difficult to establish exactly how many people had been killed because some residents of the Cireundeu and Ciputat suburbs
had the same name.

Pakaya said that the health ministry has distributed aid packages to the affected people including medicines.

Rescue workers continued to work through the day, scouring the mounds of mud and debris to search for missing people after what one local compared to the 2004 tsunami that killed 168 000 people in Indonesia.

“The rescue team is in full spirits to help their brothers and sisters,” coordinator Suyatno, who only uses one name, said.

“There is a lot of debris but we will manage to search through it, despite the difficulty.

“We’ll continue to search until we are told to stop — if necessary we will work late into the night,” Suyatno said.

The 10m Situ Gintung dam was built in 1933 when
Indonesia was under Dutch colonial rule. Authorities blamed the disaster on high water pressure following an intense downpour.

One resident, Supeje Sugeng, however said the dam had burst because it had not been properly maintained.

“We’ll see if we should ask the government for compensation. Right now, we’re just focusing on finding the missing people,” he said.

The Jakarta Globe said that such tragedies occurred too often in Indonesia.

“Whether due to lack of resources or just pure inertia, upkeep of major infrastructure is generally poor. Roads are often destroyed during the rainy season due to the poor quality of materials used and floods are a common occurrence,” the English-language daily said in an editorial.

Slamet Daroyni, executive director of the Jakarta office of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, said local residents had previously complained about leaks in the earthen dam.

“The central government and local administrations have been slow in their action,” he said.

Daroyni said that after floods in 2007, the administrations of Jakarta and its neighbouring provinces of West Java and Banten made a joint commitment to improve the condition of the dams and lakes.

“The government failed to install an early warning system for the area, which is prone to such disasters. They should’ve warned the residents not to sleep during heavy downpours.”

Although some residents had been aware of the dangerous situation before the dam collapsed, the lack of a warning system and clear street signs for evacuation caused the accident to be a catastrophe, he said.

Floods and landslides are common in Indonesia during the wet season, which falls around the northern hemisphere’s summer. – AFP

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