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Search for dump slide victims called off

Jakarta Post - September 11, 2006

Rusman, Bekasi – After three days of sifting through trash to search for the bodies of more victims who may be buried under a garbage slide in Bantar Gebang dump, Bekasi, the police and dump operator PT Patriot Bangkit Bekasi decided Saturday evening to stop the search.

The slide, which occurred late Thursday night at the eight-hectare Zone 3 of the dump, killed at least three scavengers and seriously injured five others. Witnesses said that about 50 people were picking through the garbage when the accident took place.

Patriot legal representative Jaya Butar Butar said Sunday that the decision to stop the search was taken because no more bodies were found in the last two days and there were no reports of missing people. "The official number of victims is eight. Three dead and five injured," he told The Jakarta Post.

He said that the company had handed over compensation money to the relatives of the eight victims. He declined to reveal the amount given.

The police have started an investigation into the incident by questioning four people, including truck drivers and employees of the dump operator. Bekasi Police chief Sr. Comr. Chairul Anwar said that they had yet to name any suspect.

Experts from the State Ministry for the Environment, however, underlined several facts that may put the company in hot water.

The ministry's assistant deputy of the Household Waste Pollution Control Unit, Mochamad Helmy, revealed violations in procedures at the sanitary landfill as the dump operator piled the trash to up to 20 meters high, while the standard height should be 12 to 15 meters.

He also pointed out that the dump operator should put a layer of soil between every two meters of trash to absorb methane gas produced by decomposing trash that may cause explosions.

Bekasi Council member Slamet Siahaan from Commission D that oversees environmental issues, said that the dump operator had failed to do its job. "They just didn't do what they should do... They made a fatal mistake," he told the Post.

But Jaya asked the public not to hold the company responsible. "It's a natural disaster... Besides, the police investigation is still ongoing," he said.