Indonesia Dam Burst: Death Toll Climbs

CIRENDEU, Indonesia (AP) - Soldiers and police dug through piles
of mud and debris Saturday in search of survivors after a dam burst
outside Indonesia's capital, demolishing hundreds of houses,
uprooting trees and killing at least 77 people. More than 100
others were missing and feared dead.

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 tsunami.
They accused authorities Saturday 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 the nearby Muhammadiyah University, pressed
into service as an emergency center and makeshift morgue. Mothers
wailed as they were asked to identify their dead children, and
medical workers treated the injured for cuts and bruises.

Nearby hospitals filled up with the more seriously wounded.

"I couldn't do much for my family," said Cecep Rahman, 63, who
lost his wife, son and 10-month-old granddaughter in the swift,
muddy torrent. "I was swept away and battered by debris."

Much of the water had receded by Saturday morning, but streets
were still 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.

The death toll kept climbing as hundreds of soldiers, police and
volunteers dug in with excavators, hoes or their bare hands.
National Disaster Coordinating Agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono
said at least 77 were killed and that more than 100 others were
missing.

"We've evacuated almost all of the survivors from their
houses," he said. "Now we're focusing on digging through the mud
and debris in search of bodies. We fear most of the 102 reported
missing have been killed."

The images of destruction rekindled memories of the devastating
2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people, half of them
in predominantly Muslim Indonesia, where western coastlines were
transformed into a barren moonscape.

Some residents described a deep rumbling around midnight, when
water began pouring over the rim of the 45-foot (15-meter) dam.
They banged on utility poles and cooking pots to warn neighbors.

The dam, built in 1933, gave way hours later.

"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."

Sadness was overlaid with anger Saturday.

"What makes it so much worse is that the local government knew
it was not safe," said Mulyadi, who lost his house. "Why didn't
they do something?"

The Ministry of Public Works said an investigation would be
carried out.

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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