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Mining Accident Sows Death and Devastation in Indonesia


Rescuers in Indonesia's East Java province have pulled the 11th victim from the scene of a gas-pipeline explosion. The explosion was caused by a mudflow that has devastated the area, leaving more than 10,000 people homeless. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins in Jakarta has more.

The explosion in the gas pipeline occurred in an area where scalding hot mud has been gushing since the end of May. The mud geyser resulted from a drilling accident near the exploratory Banjar Panji gas well near Porong, on the island of Java.

Muhamad Hernanto, field commander of the rescue operation, says rescuers are still searching for bodies.

He says the problem in the field is that hot mud is gushing periodically, hampering rescue efforts.

The explosion occurred where the pipeline ran beneath dikes that were built to contain the mudflow. The shifting mud raised the pressure in the pipe and caused the gas to ignite.

The Banjar Panji well was being operated by Indonesia's Lapindo Brantas company, a unit of PT Energi Mega Persada, which in turn is partly owned by the Bakri Group.

Environmentalists and some of the 10,000 people left homeless by the mudflow are furious at Indonesia's social welfare minister, Aburizal Bakrie, whose family controls the Bakrie Group.

The government finally evicted all residents of the area affected by the mudflow on Thursday. Critics say the authorities have not done enough to help those driven from their homes.

Torry Kuswardono of the Indonesian environmental group WALHI says the government should hold Lapindo, the mine operator, responsible.

"I think the government should not only pressure Lapindo, but put more binding rules to Lapindo and its shareholders to take responsibility to settle the situation," he said.

Torry Kuswardono added that the environmental impact of the gushing mud is likely to hurt the environment for years to come.

"It is probable to destroy the ecosystem of the sea along the coast because there are some indications that shrimp and fish died because of the ... environmental shocks ... and in the long term our experts predict the decrease of the number of planktons," he explained. "In the long term it will also impact to the fish and also the shrimp and also other creatures in the higher-level species."

The mud is gushing at a rate of 50,000 cubic meters a day from the well and so far, has affected an area measuring 440 hectares.