Image: A view of the damage after a flood on the outskirts of Jakarta
Dadang Tri  /  Reuters
A dam on the outskirt of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, burst early on Friday morning, killing 50 people and flooding hundreds of houses nearby, official said.
updated 3/27/2009 8:37:31 AM ET 2009-03-27T12:37:31

Torrential rain caused a colonial-era dam to burst early Friday, sending a wall of muddy water crashing into a suburb of the Indonesian capital. The flood killed at least 58 people, left scores missing and submerged hundreds of homes.

Rescuers used rubber rafts to pluck bodies from streets that were transformed into muddy rivers littered with motorcycles, chairs and other debris.

They predicted the death toll would rise.

"I'm devastated," said Cholik, 21, crying as he sat next to the body of his 54-year-old mother. His brother-in-law also was killed and his 1-year-old niece was missing. "I wasn't home last night ... I should have been there to save them."

The earthen dam, built in the early 1900s when Indonesia was still under Dutch rule, surrounded a man-made lake in Cirendeu on the southwestern edge of Jakarta. It collapsed just after 2 a.m. when most people were sleeping, sending 70 million cubic feet of water cascading into homes.

Several survivors said it felt like they'd been hit by a "mini-tsunami."

'Like a tsunami'
Water levels were so high in some places that people waited on rooftops for rescuers. Telephone lines were toppled and cars swept away, some ending up hundreds of feet rom where they'd been parked.

Video: Rescuers search By mid-afternoon, hundreds of victims gathered at nearby Muhammadiyah University, which was transformed into a makeshift morgue. Many were wailing as soldiers and police brought in bodies, covering them in white sheets of plastic.

Cecep Rahman, 63, lost his wife, son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter in the disaster.

"I heard a crashing sound and looked out my window," he choked. "The tide was so strong, like a tsunami. They were swept away. ... There was nothing I could do."

Health Ministry Crisis Center chief Rustam Pakaya and rescue teams at the scene said at least 58 people were killed and more than 400 houses submerged, some in water 10-feet deep.

A 9-year-old girl was found unconscious on one rooftop after the water receded, but she died on the way to the hospital, said rescuer Toni Suhartono, adding the child's parents and sister were among dozens still missing.

Rampant overdevelopment
An investigation by the Ministry of Public Works will be carried out to see what caused the disaster, it said.

But Wahyu Hartono, a former official at the ministry, said the 40-foot-high dam has been poorly maintained in recent years because of budget shortfalls. After four hours of heavy rain the spillway overflowed and the base gave way.

"We need to find a way to take better care of these Dutch-era dams and dikes," he said. "Otherwise, there will be more problems like this in the future."

Seasonal downpours cause dozens of landslides and flash floods each year in Indonesia, a nation of 235 million, where many live in mountainous areas or near fertile plains.

More than 40 people were killed in the capital after rivers burst their banks two years ago. Critics said rampant overdevelopment, poor city planning and clogged drainage canals were partly to blame. 

More on: Indonesia

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Photos: Indonesia dam disaster

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  1. A view of the damage after the Situgintung dam burst on the outskirts of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, early Friday. Scores of people have perished in the flooding and hundreds of nearby houses have been flooded. (Dadang Tri / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Indonesian soldiers build a makeshift bridge as search and rescue team members look for victims after the dam wall burst outside of Jakarta. The death toll is expected to rise as search teams look through submerged homes. (Adek Berry / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Soldiers and a local resident carry a survivor out of a flooded neighborhood and to safety on the outskirts of Jakarta. (Beawiharta / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A soldier mops up mud from a building swept by the flash flood that followed the dam rupture on Jakarta's outskirts. (Dita Alangkara / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Rescuers search for flood victims on Jakarta's outskirts. (Bagus Indahono / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Volunteers carry a victim of the flooding at a makeshift morgue in Tangerang, near Jakarta. (Adek Berry / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Residents wade through flood waters trying to salvage personal belongings. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A woman cries as she waits in a hospital morgue for the body of her relative, who was killed in the floods. (Supri / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A local resident searches the ruins of his house on the outskirts of Jakarta. (Dadang Tri / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Volunteers survey the damage done near the University of Muhammadiyah. (Adek Berry / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A view of the damaged Situgintung dam on the outskirts of Jakarta. (Supri / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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