- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 28, 2009

CIRENDEU, INDONESIA (AP) - Soldiers and police dug through piles of mud and debris Saturday in a desperate search for survivors after a flood from a burst dam killed at least 77 people outside Indonesia’s capital. But they were losing hope the 100 still missing would be found alive.

Days of torrential downpours filled a large lake bordering the low-lying residential area of Cirendeu to flood level. A huge section of the Dutch colonial-era dike tore away before dawn Friday, sending more than 70 million cubic feet (2 million cubic meters) of water gushing through the gaping hole.

Some residents said it felt like they’d been hit by a tsunami.

They accused authorities of ignoring warning signs and failing to repair damage to the dam, claiming it had been weakened in several places over the years because of prior flooding caused by blocked spillways.

Hundreds gathered at nearby Muhammadiyah University, pressed into service as a makeshift morgue, with bodies lined up in a row under batik sheets. Mothers wailed as they identified their dead children.

Four field hospitals were set up to accommodate more than 180 wounded, some with broken bones, head wounds and severe cuts, said Rustam Pakaya, an official with the government crisis center.

The death toll kept climbing as soldiers, police and volunteers dug in with excavators, hoes or their bare hands, reaching 77 by nightfall.

“We’ve evacuated almost all of the survivors from their houses,” said National Disaster Coordinating Agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono. “We fear most of the 102 reported missing have been killed.”

Family members were desperate, unwilling to believe the worst.

“Where is she? Where is she?” cried Mulyani, 50, who was searching for her missing daughter, Pungky Andela.

The 21-year-old student went to a Quran recital at a house at the foot of the dam the night of the disaster and decided to sleep there because of the violent weather.

“How can she be missing?” lamented Mulyani, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name.

Most of the water had receded Saturday, leaving behind streets covered in mud and debris. Cars that had been parked in driveways were swept hundreds of feet (meters) away, landing in parks. Sidewalks were strewn with sandals, cooking pans and old photographs.

Some left homeless stayed in a local university hall on high ground.

“What we urgently need are mattresses, blankets, clothes,” said Abdul Hamid. “I don’t have anything anymore, all I had was swept away by the water. I don’t have clothes for my children and my grandchildren.”

It was not immediately clear what caused the accident.

But many alleged the 76-year-old dam, like much Indonesian infrastructure, was poorly maintained.

“We need to find a way to take better care of these Dutch-era dams,” said Wahyu Hartono, a former Ministry of Public Works official, blaming budget shortfalls for the disaster. “Otherwise, there will be more problems like this.”

Aldi Rojadi, 34, whose house was damaged, said there have been reports of leaks for years and that someone should be held accountable.

The Ministry of Public Works promised to investigate.

But 30-year-old Rohmat, mopping the muddy floor of his house, said he wasn’t expecting much.

“Whenever these thing happens, officials throw around blame,” he said. “But really, what can we do about it? Nothing. We just have to accept it.”

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


Associated Press writer Zakki Hakim contributed to this report.

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