Scores drowned as Jakarta dam bursts

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The Independent Online

Torrential rain caused a colonial-era dam to burst outside the Indonesian capital early yesterday, sending a wall of muddy water crashing into a densely packed neighbourhood and killing at least 58 people.

The flood left scores missing and submerged hundreds of homes. Rescuers used rubber rafts to pluck bodies from streets that were transformed into rivers littered with motorcycles, chairs and other debris. Officials predicted that the death toll would rise and delivered 100 body bags to the scene.

"I'm devastated," said Cholik, 21, crying as he sat next to the body of his 54-year-old mother. His brother-in-law was also killed and his one-year-old niece was missing. "I wasn't home last night. I should have been there to save them," he said.

The earthen dam wall, built in 1933 when Indonesia was still under Dutch rule, held back a lake in Cirendeu on the south-western edge of Jakarta. It collapsed just after 2am when most people were sleeping, sending 70 million cubic feet of water cascading into homes and leaving the lake almost completely drained.

Several survivors said it felt like they'd been hit by a "mini-tsunami". Water levels were so high in some places that people waited on rooftops for rescuers. Telephone lines were toppled and cars swept away. Hundreds of victims gathered at nearby Muhammadiyah University, which was transformed into a makeshift morgue. Many were wailing as soldiers and police brought in bodies, covering them in white sheets of plastic. Cecep Rahman, 63, lost his wife, son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter in the disaster. "I heard a crashing sound and looked out my window," he choked. "The tide was so strong, like a tsunami. They were swept away ... There was nothing I could do."

The chief of a Health Ministry crisis centre, Rustam Pakaya, and rescue teams said at least 58 people were killed and more than 400 houses submerged, some in water 10ft deep. A nine-year-old girl was found unconscious on a rooftop after the water receded, but she died on the way to hospital, said rescuer Toni Suhartono, adding the child's parents and sister were among dozens still missing.

The powerful current carried some bodies several miles, uprooted trees and completely demolished homes, leaving only the foundations. For many, the walls of water spawned by the dam collapse triggered memories of the much more devastating Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, which killed 230,000 people, more than half of them on Indonesia's western-most island of Sumatra.