Eight people were killed and up to four were missing after an underground gas pipeline exploded near a gas well spewing mud in Indonesia, officials and police said yesterday.
The powerful blast shot flames 500m into the night sky and burst a dyke built to contain hot mud, which had inundated East Java's Sidoarjo District.
"Eight people were found dead and we are still searching for three, possibly four," said an officer on duty at the East Java Search and Rescue Agency.
The explosion occurred late on Wednesday in a part of the state-owned Pertamina East Java Gas Pipeline.
The incident happened in an area where authorities have been struggling for months to plug a mud leak stemming from an oil drilling accident that has inundated several villages and caused an environmental disaster.
Officials said most of those killed by the accident were military and other government personnel involved in trying to secure the mud flow.
Retno Rudi Novrianto, another official from the mud team, said it was likely the pipes cracked.
"Since the gas pipes are high pressure ones, it produced a big blast," he said.
A police official, who declined to be named, said earlier the pipeline problem had been contained as of late Wednesday but did not indicate whether the pipe, which ran through the mudflow area, was continuing to leak.
It was not immediately clear whether the mud flow in the area had any link to the accident, but an official for the state oil and gas firm said there were long-standing plans to move the pipe, which runs right through the middle of the mud-affected area.
Indonesian television showed panicked residents fleeing the area in cars and on motorcycles.
More than 10,000 people have so far been displaced by the mud, gushing at a rate of 50,000m3 a day from the well.
Experts say the mud leak could have been triggered by a crack about 1,800m deep inside an exploratory well drilling operation near Surabaya.
A Pertamina official said it would not have to import more diesel oil after a request from the state power firm for the fuel for use at power stations to make up for the lost gas.
A spokesman for PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara said the power firm had requested an additional 1,000 kiloliters per day of the oil product from Pertamina.
Australian oil and gas firm Santos Ltd. said yesterday that the Maleo gas project, in which Santos has a 67.5 percent stake, shut down production after the explosion.
Maleo gas, along with gas from other fields in the area, is delivered into the East Java pipeline.
Santos spokesman Christian Bennett said it was too early to determine the expected duration of the outage.