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109 missing after Indonesia dam bursts

JAKARTA, March 28 – Rescue workers in Indonesia searched Saturday for more than 100 people still missing after a dam burst, sending a torrent of water crashing into a Jakarta suburb, as the official toll rose to 67.

Hundreds of buildings collapsed when a wall of water broke through the man-made earthen dam early Friday, as residents slept in their beds.

Rescue workers said they would work through the day, scouring the mounds of mud and debris to search for the 109 people still missing after what one local compared to the 2004 tsunami that killed 168,000 people in Indonesia.

"So far, 67 people were killed and 109 people have been listed as missing. The rescue team is in full spirit to help their brothers and sisters," coordinator Suyatno, who only uses one name, told AFP.

"There is a lot of debris. But we will manage to search through it, despite the difficulty.

"We’ll continue to search until we are told to stop — if necessary we will work late into the night," Suyatno said.

Rustam Pakaya, head of the government’s crisis centre, said it was difficult to establish exactly how many people had been killed because some residents of the Cireundeu and Ciputat suburbs had the same name.

The 10-metre-high (33-foot) 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.

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One resident, Supeje Sugeng, however said the dam had burst because it had not been properly maintained.

"We’ll see if we should ask the government for compensation. Right now, we’re just focusing on finding the missing people," he said.

The Jakarta Globe said that such tragedies occurred too often in Indonesia.

"Whether due to lack of resources or just pure inertia, upkeep of major infrastructure is generally poor. Roads are often destroyed during the rainy season due to the poor quality of materials used and floods are a common occurrence," the English-language daily said in an editorial.

Slamet Daroyni, executive director of the Jakarta office of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, said local residents had previously complained about leaks.

"The central government and local administrations have been slow in their action," he said.

Daroyni said that after floods in 2007, the administrations of Jakarta and its neighboring provinces of West Java and Banten made a joint commitment to improve the condition of the dams and lakes.

"The government failed to install an early warning system for the area, which is prone to such disasters. They should’ve warned the residents not to sleep during heavy downpours."

Although some residents had been aware of the dangerous situation before the dam collapsed, the lack of a warning system and clear street signs for evacuation caused the accident to be a catastrophe, he said.

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Floods and landslides are common in Indonesia during the wet season, which falls around the northern hemisphere’s summer.


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