Mon, Mar 30, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Death toll rises to 97 after dam burst

HOPE FADING: Some 700 rescue workers, police and military personnel joined forces yesterday in a third day of searching for 102 people still listed as missing


The death toll from a burst dam in a Jakarta suburb rose to 97 yesterday as rescue workers continued to search for more than 100 people still missing, an official said. But attention shifted largely to caring for homeless and hungry survivors as hope dimmed of finding the missing victims alive.

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.

“Until this afternoon, we recorded that a total of 97 bodies had been found,” disaster emergency center official Rahmat Salam said.

Some 700 rescue workers, police and military personnel joined forces yesterday in a third day of searching for 102 people still listed as missing.

Salam said officials were also working to verify the exact number unaccounted for after reports that scores of people had fled the area and were staying with relatives.

Hundreds of soldiers, police and volunteers have been digging through the mud and debris, some using hoes or their bare hands, while other rescuers scoured the banks of bloated rivers.

But so far, they have turned up mostly bodies.

The 10m high 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. But local residents and environmentalists said that the dam had burst because it had not been properly maintained.

Days of heavy rain caused a large lake bordering a low-lying residential area southwest of Jakarta to overflow early on Friday, sending water cascading over the rim with a thunderous rumble.

Hours later, a huge section of the earth wall gave away, and a 3m high wave gushed through Cirendeu, overturning cars and uprooting trees.

National Disaster Coordinating Agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono said the prospects of finding anyone alive in the muck were dimming by the hour, “though there’s always the possibility that someone is alive trapped under the rubble.”

Search-and-rescue operations would continue for at least a week, he said.

In the meantime, more than 1,600 people have been left homeless and need food and shelter. Many were camping out in the hall of a nearby university, others in hastily erected tent camps.

Kardono said there was no shortage of supplies — instant noodles, baby food and bottled water — but with so many resources devoted to recovery efforts, the immediate problem was distribution.

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