58 killed as dam bursts its banks in Indonesia
A dam burst its banks near the Indonesian capital Jakarta on Friday, drowning at least 58 people in a torrent of muddy water that flooded hundreds of homes, officials said.
Dozens remained missing after a huge wall of water broke through the man-made earthen dam as residents slept, giving them little chance to flee their low-lying homes.
One resident compared it to a tsunami, recalling the 2004 disaster that killed 168,000 people in Indonesia.
Houses and concrete buildings were flattened and buckled by the force of the water, which left many survivors in the suburbs of Cireundeu and Ciputat trapped on rooftops waiting to be rescued.
"This disaster happened so suddenly," said Danang Susanto, an official with the health ministry's crisis centre. "Because people were sleeping, they couldn't get away."
He estimated up to 500 homes were destroyed or submerged after heavy rains caused the breach in the dam at the edge of Situ Gintung lake in Cireundeu.
The flooding in some places was six metres (20 feet) high.
Crisis centre head Rustam Pakaya put the death toll at 58, saying dozens more were injured.
A nearby university assembly hall was converted into a makeshift morgue, where mud-smeared residents searched for missing loved ones among the bodies of the dead lined up on the floor.
Ghufron, a 17-year-old student, said he narrowly escaped waters that crashed into his home, but an uncle was dead and three other relatives were missing.
"By the time I woke up the water was up to my nose. I climbed to the roof to save myself. I heard people screaming and shouting," he said.
Dewi Masitoh, a 40-year-old housewife, said she narrowly escaped with her husband and two daughters after they saw rising water reach the door of their stilt house.
"We were on the second floor but my daughter went back downstairs when the window broke and water gushed in. My husband jumped in and pulled her out of the water by her neck.
"I punched a hole through the roof and we all climbed up through," she said, showing cuts and scratches on her arms.
Television images showed bodies floating through the twisting streets nearby and water rushing through the breach in the dam, emptying the lake.
"It was like being in the middle of a tsunami," a local resident named Minu told news website Detikcom.
"We cannot ascertain yet what caused the dam to break. Right now we're trying to rescue people," local deputy police commander Basuki said.
"It's very difficult because of the thick mud, and because of the collapsed houses there are lots of branches, wooden planks and nails, making it difficult for our rubber boats to move," he said.
While some authorities suggested rain may have caused the dam collapse, local residents said the decades-old barrier might have given way for other reasons.
"A lot of new homes were being built near the dam. I believe that may have caused the earth making up the dam to loosen," said Supeje Sugeng, 49.
"I saw water seeping through since midnight. When it broke, it was sudden and it sounded like thunder," he said.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and top ministers interrupted intense campaigning for legislative elections to inspect the rescue operations in the disaster area and visit the victims.
"This disaster occurred because of unexpectedly high pressure caused by the high water level in the dam," Yudhoyono told reporters.
"This is truly a catastrophe."
Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said: "What we are going to do now is help those who are alive identify the dead and help prevent diseases that could arise."
State power company PLN shut off electricity to the flood-hit area, where five of its power stations were submerged, Detikcom reported.
Floods and landslides are common in Indonesia during the wet season, which falls around the northern hemisphere's summer.