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Indonesia dam burst death toll reaches 77, more than 100 missing

SOLIDERS and police dug through piles of mud and debris today 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 yesterday, sending more than 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 today 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 this morning, but streets were still covered in mud and debris. Cars that had been parked in driveways were swept hundreds of 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."

Some residents described a deep rumbling around midnight, when water began pouring over the rim of the 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 today.

"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.


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