East Java turnpike closed indefinitely


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Jakarta Post

November 27, 2006
East Java turnpike closed indefinitely

Indra Harsaputra and Slamet Susanto, The Jakarta Post, Sidoarjo, Yogyakarta

The government has decided to permanently close the key Surabaya-Gempol turnpike Saturday after a gas pipeline in the mudflow disaster site in Sidoarjo, East Java, exploded Wednesday night not far from the turnpike, killing at least 11 people.

Public Works Minister Djoko Kirmanto said a section of the turnpike buried by the mudflow, which has been spurting forth from the Lapindo Brantas Inc. gas exploration site since May 29, would be permanently closed and would not be reopened since it would endanger traffic.

"The closure is permanent and it's impossible for the Porong turnpike to be reopened," Djoko said Saturday while visiting the construction of Sabo dam, built as a precautionary measure in case cold pyroclastic material comes rushing down the slopes of Mt. Merapi in Yogyakarta when the rainy season arrives.

He said turnpike traffic would be diverted to several alternative roads, adding that his office was currently working on traffic management and repairing several damaged roads.

"There are roads that already have four lanes, but there are those with two lanes. We will expand the two-lane roads into four lanes," Djoko said.

He said the government would build a new turnpike above existing roads, but not above the closed turnpike, since the area was inundated by mud.

He said his office had not yet calculated the financial losses caused by the gas explosion.

The national team in charge of dealing with the mudflow disaster has also disclosed a plan following Wednesday's explosion to relocate the gas pipeline immediately, since it was impossible to stop the mudflow.

"In the meantime, the damaged pipeline belonging to state oil and gas company Pertamina will be replaced with a new one. This work is expected to be completed within three days so it will not disrupt the affected companies' gas supply," the team's executive chief, Basuki Hadimulyono, told The Jakarta Post Saturday.

He said other public facilities, including railway tracks, would also be relocated immediately, along with hundreds of residents living a kilometer away from the hot mud source.

"We have evacuated 76 families, or around 100 people. They're fleeing in fear that the mudflow will spread further to residential areas," Basuki said.

Since it was first spotted, the mudflow has displaced more than 10,000 people as well as flooded several villages, dozens of factories and swathes of paddy and sugarcane fields, causing an unfolding environmental disaster in Sidoarjo, an industrial city not far from Surabaya, the country's second largest city and port.

Donations have started arriving for mudflow victims, including from the People's Association on Conscience (PAC) of Japan that donated over 200 cans of powdered milk following the explosion.

The explosion happened after an embankment built to contain the hot mud collapsed, increasing pressure on the pipe located underneath the sand-and-gravel dikes, releasing gas and causing it to ignite.

On Saturday, rescue workers were forced to suspend the search for two people still missing.

"We have stopped the search now because the temperature of the mud is more than 60 degrees (Celsius) now," M. Hernanto, the coordinator of the rescue team, told Reuters.

"Two people have not been found yet, one of them was an excavator operator," he said, adding that rescue operations would resume once the mud had cooled.

Jakarta Post