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Indonesian residents search charred homes after fuel depot fire kills 17

Agence France-Presse - March 4, 2023

Jakarta – Residents searched through the remains of their charred homes on Saturday after a fuel storage depot fire in Jakarta left at least 17 people, including two children, dead.

Three people were still missing after Friday night's blaze at state energy firm Pertamina's Plumpang depot in north Jakarta.

Indonesian officials on Saturday called for an audit of "all fuel facilities and infrastructures" in the country.

Sixty people were injured, with many severely burned, while hundreds more living in residential areas near the depot had to be evacuated.

"It started with a very strong smell. It was so strong that we could hardly breathe," Mr Swastono Aji told AFP.

"Then we were leaving this area when we suddenly heard a very loud explosion."

Vice-President Ma'ruf Amin visited the scene on Saturday and confirmed that 17 people were killed and 60 more injured.

He suggested the depot should be moved away from residential neighbourhoods.

"I hope this depot can be relocated... so it will be safer and this area will be rearranged so it meets the requirements of a proper neighbourhood in the capital," he told reporters.

National Police Chief Listyo Sigit, also speaking at the site, said at least three people were still missing.

Top officials have called for a probe into the fire's cause and an audit of the country's energy facilities after several recent blazes.

"After we had multiple fires... it is clear that we must audit all fuel facilities and infrastructures, especially tanks and refineries," Mr Sugeng Suparwoto, head of the Parliament's energy commission, told local broadcaster Metro TV on Saturday.

In 2021, a massive blaze broke out at the Balongan refinery in West Java, also owned by Pertamina and one of Indonesia's biggest such facilities.

That same depot saw fires in 2009 and again in 2014 – when the flames spread to 40 houses nearby. No casualties were reported in either of those cases.

"I instructed Pertamina to immediately investigate this case and we are now focusing on helping the people. There must be an operational evaluation in the future," Minister of State-Owned Enterprises Erick Thohir said in an Instagram post late on Friday.

The morning after the blaze, homes stacked up against the barbed wire fences of the Pertamina facility were gutted and blackened, with rows of cars burned out.

One child stood in the middle of the debris, surveying the scorched scene as emergency workers evacuated one of the dead in a body bag.

"It was like a bomb; it was like a mini apocalypse. It was unimaginable," said witness Mr Jamilul Asror, 45, calling on the authorities to relocate residents farther away.

"Pertamina is being reckless. This depot is way too close."

'Completely destroyed'

Footage broadcast on Friday night showed people screaming and fleeing through narrow roads with an inferno lighting up the sky behind them.

A fireball could be seen across the skyline of north Jakarta with sirens wailing in the background.

The military and Pertamina said they were investigating the cause of the tragedy.

Jakarta fire and rescue chief Satriadi Gunawan said firefighters initially received reports that a pipe had burst at the depot.

The oil and gas firm's chief executive, Mr Nicke Widyawati, said the country's fuel supply had not been disrupted.

Jakarta's acting governor, Mr Heru Budi Hartono, said the government would pay for the treatment of the injured, many of whom remained in hospital on Saturday.

The North Jakarta Red Cross said 342 people had been evacuated and that four tents were set up for the displaced.

Ms Linda, a mother of one, said she had lost everything after fleeing with just the clothes on her back and her family.

"I can't return home because it is completely destroyed," she told Metro TV. "I don't even know what state it is in, and I don't know where to go now."

Source: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/indonesians-search-charred-homes-after-fuel-depot-fire-kills-1