JAKARTA, (Reuters) – A wall of water from a burst dam killed 52 people on the outskirts of the Indonesian capital Jakarta yesterday, crashing into hundreds of homes while many residents slept, officials said.
While landslides and floods are common during the rainy season in Indonesia, the latest disaster was probably caused by torrential rain and poor maintenance, some officials said, reflecting years of under-investment in much of the country’s crucial infrastructure.
The dam, which retained water in Lake Situ Gintung in Tangerang District, 20 km (12 miles) southwest of Jakarta, dated from the 1930s in the Dutch colonial era, according to local media reports.
“The dam was an old dam, 16 metres deep,” said Ratu Atut Chosiyah, governor of Banten province, where the lake is located.
“Last night, because of heavy rain, the dam could not hold back the water so it broke,” she added. Lukman Farid, a resident, told Reuters Television the water rushed past his house around dawn.
“I was in front of my door and I saw my neighbour tried to drive his car. But the water was turbulent, fast, and in seconds it was already high. The water was about 2.5 metres at the time.”
Rustam Pakaya, a health ministry official, said 52 bodies had been recovered, while hundreds of houses were under 2 metres (7 feet) of floodwater.
“Hundreds of houses are flooded, tens of houses damaged, it was like a small tsunami,” he said.
Rescuers retrieved the dead and injured using inflatable boats or waded through floodwater that in some areas came up to their chests.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono cut short a trip to West Java province, where he was campaigning ahead of April 9 parliamentary elections, to visit the disaster scene and offer condolences to the victims.