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16 people still missing after oil depot fire in Indonesia


Jakarta, Indonesia — Indonesian rescuers and firefighters searched on Saturday for possible victims under the rubble of charred homes and buildings after a major fire broke out at a fuel storage depot in the capital, killing at least 15 people and leaving 16 others missing.

The Plumpang fuel storage station, operated by state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina, is near a densely populated area in Tanah Merah district, North Jakarta. It provides 25% of Indonesia’s fuel needs.

At least 260 firefighters and 52 firefighters managed to put out the blaze just before midnight Friday after a blaze swept through the neighborhood for more than two hours, fire officials said. They were working to secure the area on Saturday.

Video of the blaze shown on television Friday night showed hundreds of people in the community running in panic as thick plumes of black smoke and orange flame filled the sky and firefighters battled the blaze.

A preliminary investigation showed that the fire started when a pipeline ruptured in heavy rain, possibly due to a lightning strike, said Eko Kristiawan, Pertamina’s regional manager for the part. West Java.

Residents living near the depot said they smelled a strong smell of gasoline, causing some people to vomit, after which thunder rumbled twice, followed by a huge explosion around 8 p.m.

Sri Haryati, a mother of three, said the fire started spreading through their neighborhood about 20 minutes later, causing sudden panic among residents.

“I was crying and immediately grabbed our precious documents and ran with my husband and children,” Haryati said.

She said she heard smaller explosions that echoed through the residential area as orange flames leaped from the depot complex and columns of black smoke rose.

Data from the Indonesian Red Cross command center says the death toll has been revised to 15 from 17 after authorities discovered some victims had been double counted. Rescuers continued to search for 16 people missing or separated from their families in the chaos. About 49 people were receiving treatment at five hospitals, some of them in critical condition.

Jakarta Acting Governor Heru Budi Hartono said around 600 displaced people were being taken to temporary shelters at government offices, a Red Cross command post and a sports stadium.

Pertamina Chairman and CEO Nicke Widyawati apologized for the incident and said the company would provide assistance to affected communities.

She said the company was working closely with relevant institutions and law enforcement to investigate the cause of the fire at the depot.

“We will carry out a thorough internal assessment and reflection to prevent similar incidents from happening again,” Widyawati said in a statement, adding that the company had ensured that the fuel oil supply would be safe.

The company will use fuel supplies from a number of Pertamina fuel terminals on the island of Java and support Cilacap and Balongan refineries, which are transported by sea to Tanjung Priok terminal in North Jakarta.

As investigators tried to piece together what happened, grieving relatives went to the morgue of a police hospital in East Jakarta on Saturday morning to identify their loved ones. Officials said all the bodies were burned beyond recognition.

“The condition of the corpses made them difficult to recognize…they could only be identified by DNA and dental data,” said Trunoyudo Wisnu Andiko, spokesman for the Jakarta police.

Friday’s fire was the second major fire at the Plumpang fuel depot. In 2014, a fire engulfed at least 40 nearby homes, but no casualties were reported.

Fahmi Radhi, an energy analyst from Gajah Mada University, urged Pertamina and the government to immediately move the depot away from nearby community settlements.

“Pertamina was negligent in not using international standard security systems,” he said in an interview with Kompas TV. He said that since the fire in 2014, no effort had been made to put such a system in place and that regular inspections should be carried out to prevent future fires.

“Pertamina’s board should be held accountable for this deadliest fire by being fired immediately,” Radhi said.

An oil spill in 2018 caused a fire that killed five people and sickened hundreds in the port town of Balikpapan. Authorities said it came from a broken pipe that Pertamina was using to transfer crude oil.

In March 2021, a fire at the Cilacap gasoline storage facility at the largest oil refinery on the main island of Java caused the evacuation of 80 nearby residents and injured at least 20 people. Cilacap is one of six Pertamina refineries with a processing capacity of 270,000 barrels per day. Eight months later, more than 900 people have been evacuated after a fire broke out at the Pertamina Balongan refinery in West Java province.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.