Indonesia Dam Bursts Near Capital, Killing 58

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CIRENDEU, Indonesia — Soldiers and police dug through piles of mud and debris Saturday looking for bodies after a dam burst outside Indonesia's capital, demolishing hundreds of houses, uprooting trees and killing at least 69 people. Dozens more were missing.

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.

More than 70 million cubic feet (2 million cubic meters) of water roared through the gaping hole, nearly emptying the lake's basin and inundating homes up to the rooftops. The muddy current dragged bodies several miles (kilometers).

"The water was so strong it was like a tsunami," said Cecep Rahman, 63, who lost his wife, son and 10-month-old granddaughter. "I couldn't do much for my family. I was swept away and battered by debris."

He was among hundreds gathered at 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.

Much of the water had receded by Saturday morning, but streets were still covered in mud and debris.

With hundreds of soldiers and police helping look for survivors and bodies, the death toll kept climbing. Indonesia's search-and-rescue agency said at least 69 people were killed and 72 were missing.

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.

Many in the flooded area accused authorities of failing to recognize warning signs and repair damage to the dam. It was weakened in several places by prior flooding caused by blocked spillways, said Wahyu Hartono, a former Ministry of Public Works official.

"We need to find a way to take better care of these Dutch-era dams. Otherwise, there will be more problems like this," he said, blaming budget shortfalls for the disaster.

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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