Indonesian gas station fire kills 18 and more than a dozen missing

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JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesian rescuers and firefighters searched Saturday for more than a dozen people missing under the rubble of burned houses and buildings, after a massive fire spread from a fuel storage facility in the capital and killed at least 18 people.

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

At least 260 firefighters and 52 fire engines extinguished the blaze just before midnight Friday after it raged through the neighborhood for more than two hours, fire officials said.

Pictures showed hundreds of people running in panic as thick plumes of black smoke and orange flames filled the sky.

A preliminary investigation showed that the fire started when a pipeline broke during heavy rain, possibly caused by a lightning strike, said Eko Kristiawan, Pertamina’s regional manager for West Java.

Residents living near the depot reported smelling a strong odor of gasoline, causing some people to vomit, followed by two rounds of thunder, and then a large explosion around 8 p.m

Sri Haryati, a mother of three, said that the fire started spreading 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 that she heard similar smaller explosions throughout the area. while orange flames leapt from the depot.

Rescuers were searching for 16 people who were reported missing or separated from their families amid the unrest. Around 42 people were being treated in five hospitals, some of them in critical condition.

The head of the National Police, Listyo Sigit Prabowo, said that more than 1,300 people had been displaced and were taking shelter in 10 government offices, a Red Cross command post and a sports stadium.

He said that investigators were still working to establish the cause of the fire and were questioning dozens of witnesses.

The head of Pertamina, Nicke Widyawati apologized and said that the company would help the community and cooperate in the investigation.

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

On Saturday, grieving relatives gathered at a police hospital morgue in East Jakarta to try to identify their loved ones. Officials said the victims were burned beyond recognition and could only be identified through DNA and dental records.

In 2014, at least 40 houses caught fire at the same fuel plant, but no casualties were reported.

Indonesia’s State Property Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir told reporters that the government will redefine safe zones for residential areas away from critical items.

He said the incident showed that the Plumpang area is not safe for the community, and that the government plans to move the fuel storage plant to Tanjung Priok port in northern Jakarta.

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