100s Thought Dead In Indonesia Dam Burst

A damaged mosque is seen after dam burst in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, March 27, 2009. The resulting flash flood killed at least 58 people. AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana

Rescue officials say the number of people killed when a dam burst outside the Indonesian capital has climbed to 91. The toll is expected to keep climbing with more than 100 still missing.

The tragedy occurred Friday when a large lake bordering a low-lying residential area southwest of Jakarta overflowed following a torrential downpour.

Water first cascaded over the rim of the Dutch-colonial dam and then, hours later, a huge section of the earth wall tore away, sending muddy water crashing into homes like a tsunami, tossing cars, uprooting trees and dragging bodies for miles.

National Disaster Coordinating Agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono said Sunday at least 91 died and that more than 100 were still missing. Search and rescue operations will continue for a week.

Search and rescue teams dug through the mud with their bare hands and hoes in search those missing Saturday.

The tragedy occurred when a large lake bordering a low-lying residential area southwest of Jakarta overflowed following a torrential downpour.

Water first cascaded over the rim of the Dutch-colonial dam and then, hours later, a huge section of the earth wall tore away, sending muddy water crashing into homes like a tsunami, tossing cars, toppling utility poles, and dragging bodies for miles.

Some residents blamed authorities Saturday, saying the 76-year-old dam had been poorly maintained. They said blocked spillways had lead to repeated flooding over the years, weakening it in several points.

Hundreds gathered, meanwhile, at nearby Muhammadiyah University, which was turned into a makeshift morgue. Bodies were lined up in a row under batik sheets and parents wailed as they identified their 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 away, landing in parks. Sidewalks were strewn with sandals, cooking pans and old photographs.

Some left homeless stayed in a 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 dam to break, but the Ministry of Public Works promised to investigate.

"We need to find a way to take better care of these Dutch-era dams," said Wahyu Hartono, a former ministry 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.

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.

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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