Sun, March 29, 2009
World > Asia-Pacific

Scores still missing after Indonesian dam bursts

2009-03-29 12:53:12 GMT2009-03-29 20:53:12 (Beijing Time)

Residents walk in debris after a dam burst in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sunday, March 29, 2009. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

Indonesian soldiers search for victims after a dam burst in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sunday, March 29, 2009. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

CIRENDEU, Indonesia – Attention shifted to caring for homeless and hungry survivors Sunday after a dam burst outside the Indonesian capital, sending a wall of water crashing into a densely packed neighborhood. At least 96 people were killed and 130 others were missing — but hopes of finding them alive were dimming.

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

But so far, they have turned up mostly bodies.

"He was our best friend," said Rizki Fauzi, 17, who turned up at a local cemetery with several other somber high school students to visit a newly dug grave for 18-year-old Rochmat.

Days of heavy rain caused a large lake bordering a low-lying residential area southwest of Jakarta to overflow early Friday, sending water cascading over the rim with a thunderous rumble. Hours later, a huge section of the earth wall gave away and a 10-foot (three-meter) -high wave gushed through Cirendeu, overturning cars and uprooting trees.

National Disaster Coordinating Agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono put the death toll so far at 96.

He acknowledged that prospects of finding anyone alive were getting less likely by the hour, "though there's always the possibility that someone is alive trapped under the rubble."

Search-and-rescue operations are to continue for at least a week.

Hundreds of people were displaced by the disaster, Kardono said, though large numbers were starting to return to homes less damaged Sunday or were doubling up with friends or relatives in nearby Jakarta.

"I lost pretty much everything I own," said Rosmiati, 37, whose house was totally demolished in the muddy surge. "I'll stay with my family until I can get back on my feet."

Those less lucky were camping out in the hall of a nearby university, with others in hastily erected tent camps.

Some residents blamed authorities, saying the 76-year-old dam, built in the Dutch colonial era, had been poorly maintained. They said blocked spillways had led to repeated flooding over the years, weakening it in several places.

The Ministry of Public Works promised to investigate.

Seasonal downpours cause dozens of landslides and flash floods each year in Indonesia, a nation of 235 million.

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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