Dam burst kills 54 in Indonesia (Roundup)

March 27th, 2009 - 5:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Jakarta, March 27 (DPA) At least 54 people were killed and up to 37 were missing Friday after a dam broke near the Indonesian capital, officials said.
The Situ Gintung dam in the Tangerang district, 50 km south of Jakarta, collapsed about 2 a.m. (1900 GMT Thursday), sending water crashing into a crowded residential area, officials said.

Hundreds of homes were submerged and many were swept away while trees were uprooted.

Up to 37 people were reported missing by their families and 36 were injured, said Rustam Pakaya, the head of the health ministry’s crisis centre, who likened the disaster to a tsunami.

“Waters have receded, but the area is still covered by mud,” he said. “It’s a big clean-up job.”

Residents said hours of heavy rain Thursday might have caused the 10-metre-high dam to break.

Television footage taken from a helicopter showed a gaping hole and widespread devastation in the area near the dam, which was built in 1933 when Indonesia was under Dutch occupation and holds water at the Pasanggrahan River.

A resident, Mabruri, told the TV One channel that his house and bean curd factory were swept away by the flood. Like many Indonesians, he goes by only one name.

“Fortunately no one was in the factory, but I saw two of my neighbours being swept away,” he said.

“Something like this never happened before,” he told the station.

“There were leaks before, but officials just took pictures and didn’t do anything about them.”

Rescuers were scouring the devastated area using rubber boats.

A leading Indonesian environmental group, Walhi, said there was another breach at the dam in November although it did not cause damage.

“It should have served as a warning that the dam was vulnerable,” said the director of the Jakarta branch of Walhi, Slamet Daryoni.

“Authorities should have devised an early warning system for residents,” he said. “This is the fruit of negligence.”

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono postponed an election campaign event to visit the disaster scene, the Detik.com news website reported.

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