First the Smell of Gas, Then Thunder, a Blast, and Fire

At least 18 dead after blaze at fuel storage depot in Jakarta, Indonesia
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 4, 2023 11:30 AM CST
First the Smell of Gas, Then Thunder, a Blast, and Fire
Rescuers recover the body of a victim from a neighborhood affected by a fuel depot fire in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Saturday.   (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

Indonesian rescuers and firefighters on Saturday searched for more than a dozen missing people under the rubble of charred houses and buildings, after a large fire spread from a fuel storage depot in the capital and killed at least 18 people. The Plumpang fuel storage station, operated by state-run oil and gas company Pertamina, is near a densely populated area in the Tanah Merah neighborhood in North Jakarta. It supplies 25% of Indonesia's fuel needs, per the AP. At least 260 firefighters and 52 fire engines extinguished the blaze just before midnight on Friday after it tore through the neighborhood for more than two hours, fire officials said. Footage showed hundreds of people running in panic as thick plumes of black smoke and orange flames filled the sky.

A preliminary investigation showed the fire broke out when a pipeline ruptured during heavy rain, possibly triggered by a lightning strike, said a Pertamina area manager for the western part of Java. Residents living near the depot said they smelled a strong odor of gasoline, causing some people to vomit, after which thunder rumbled twice, followed by a huge explosion around 8pm. Sri Haryati, a mother of three, said the fire began to spread about 20 minutes later, causing panic. "I was crying and immediately grabbed our valuable documents and ran with my husband and children," Haryati said, adding she heard smaller blasts that echoed across the neighborhood as orange flames jumped from the depot. Rescuers were searching for 16 people who were reported missing or separated from their families amid the chaos.

About 42 people were receiving treatment in five hospitals, some in critical condition. The chief of the National Police, Listyo Sigit Prabowo, said more than 1,300 people were displaced and taking shelter in government offices, a Red Cross command post, and a sports stadium. He said investigators were still working to find the fire's cause and questioning witnesses. Pertamina chief Nicke Widyawati apologized and said the company would provide help to the community and cooperate in the probe. "We will carry out a thorough evaluation and reflection internally to prevent similar incidents from happening again," Widyawati said in a statement. In 2014, a fire at the same fuel depot engulfed at least 40 houses, but no casualties were reported. Per an Indonesian official, the government plans to move the fuel storage depot to the port of Tanjung Priok port in northern Jakarta.

(More Indonesia stories.)

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