Sat, Mar 28, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Dam bursts near Jakarta, killing 50 people

‘MINI TSUNAMI’ The collapse of the huge dam built during the Dutch era sent 2 million cubic meters of water gushing into hundreds of homes


Torrential rain caused an earthen dam to burst early yesterday, sending a wall of water crashing into a crowded neighborhood just outside Indonesia’s capital. The flood killed at least 50 people, left dozens missing and submerged hundreds of homes.

Rescuers — some using rubber rafts to pluck bodies from streets that were transformed into muddy rivers, littered with chairs, sandals and other debris — predicted the toll would climb.

“I’m devastated,” said Cholik, 21, crying as he sat next to the body of his 54-year-old mother.

His brother-in-law was also killed and his one-year-old niece was missing.

“I wasn’t home last night ... I should have been there to save them,” he said.

The massive dam, built decades ago under Dutch colonial rule, surrounded an artificial lake in Cirendeu, on the Jakarta’s southwestern edge. It collapsed just after 2am, when most people were sleeping, sending 2 million cubic meters of water gushing into homes.

Several residents said that it felt like they had been hit by a “mini-tsunami.”

Water levels were so high in some places that survivors waited on roof tops for rescuers. Telephone lines were toppled and cars swept away, some ending up in parks hundreds of meters from where they’d been parked.

“A flash flood came suddenly and was horrifying,” said Seto Mulyadi, adding that the heavy sludge smashed all the windows and doors on the ground floor of his house, while he, his wife and four children were sleeping upstairs.

Some people living near the dam said they heard sirens before the disaster, which followed a four-hour downpour. Others were caught completely off guard.

Health Ministry Crisis Center chief Rustam Pakaya said at least 50 people were killed and more than 400 houses submerged. Dozens more were missing.

A nine-year-old girl was found unconscious on top of one home after the waters receded, but she died on the way to the hospital, said rescuer Toni Suhartono, adding that the child’s parents and sister have not yet been accounted for.

A probe will be carried out to see what caused the disaster.

But Wahyu Hartono, a former official at the Ministry of Public Works Ministry, said the nearly 15m high dam has been poorly maintained in recent years because of budget shortfalls.

After four hours of heavy rain the spillway overflowed and then the base gave way.

“We need to find a way to take better care of these Dutch-era dams and dikes,” he said. “Otherwise, there will be more problems like this in the future.”

Seasonal downpours cause dozens of landslides and flash floods each year in Indonesia, a nation of 235 million, where many live in mountainous areas or near fertile plains, and Jakarta, home to 12 million, is rarely not immune.

More than 40 people were killed in the capital after rivers burst their banks two years ago. Critics said rampant overdevelopment, poor city planning and clogged drainage canals were partly to blame.

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