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People seen this today in the debris of damaged houses at a residential area near the site of a fuel storage explosion in Jakarta, Indonesia. Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Search for survivors following deadly Indonesia fuel depot fire that killed at least 18 people

Police said three people were still missing after last night’s blaze in north Jakarta.

RESIDENTS SEARCHED THROUGH the remains of their charred homes today as Indonesian state energy firm Pertamina apologised for a fire at a Jakarta fuel storage depot it said killed at least 18 people, including two children.

Dozens were also injured and police said three people were still missing after last night’s blaze at Pertamina’s Plumpang depot in north Jakarta.

Officials today called for an audit of “all fuel facilities and infrastructures” in Indonesia.

Pertamina, which controls the majority of Indonesia’s fuel and energy distribution, publicly apologised for the fire.

“The management and I would like to convey our deepest apology for this incident. None of us expected this incident to happen,” Nicke Widyawati, Pertamina’s director, told a televised news conference.

Thirty-five people were still being treated, with many suffering severe burns, while more than 1,300 people living in residential areas near the depot had to be evacuated. The death toll had risen by one during the day.

“What I saw was smoke travelling from the left to the right, about 10 minutes later there was an explosion and the fire spread catching the houses,” witness Selamet, who like many Indonesians only has one name, told AFP.

Vice President Ma’ruf Amin visited the scene on Saturday and 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 Prabowo said the fire happened while fuel that had just arrived from another refinery was being reloaded.

“There was a technical disruption that caused excessive pressure and, after that, the fire happened. The source of the fire is currently being investigated,” he said.

Multiple fires

Top officials have called for a probe into the fire’s cause and an audit of Indonesia’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,” Sugeng Suparwoto, head of the parliament’s energy commission, told local broadcaster Metro TV on Saturday.

A massive blaze broke out in 2021 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 Friday.

Homes stacked up against the barbed wire fences of the Pertamina facility were gutted and blackened the morning after the blaze, 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 Jamilul Asror, 45, who called on authorities to relocate residents farther away.

“Pertamina is being reckless. This depot is way too close.”

‘Completely destroyed’

Footage broadcast last 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.

Pertamina’s Widyawati said Indonesia’s fuel supply had not been disrupted.

Jakarta’s acting governor, Heru Budi Hartono, said the government would pay for the treatment of the injured.

The North Jakarta Red Cross said they helped 342 evacuees, with four tents set up for the displaced.

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

“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.”

- © AFP 2023

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