JAKARTA, Indonesia—Indonesian rescuers and firefighters on Sunday searched for three people who were still missing after a large fire spread from a fuel storage depot in the capital and killed at least 19 people.
The Plumpang fuel storage station, operated by state-run oil and gas company Pertamina, is near a densely populated area in the Tanah Merah neighborhood in North Jakarta. It supplies 25 percent of Indonesia’s fuel needs.
At least 260 firefighters and 52 fire engines extinguished the blaze just before midnight on Friday after it tore through the neighborhood for more than two hours, fire officials said.
Footage showed hundreds of people running in panic as thick plumes of black smoke and orange flames filled the sky.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited the fire-hit areas on Sunday morning to reassure people that the government would help those in need.
Widodo said he has ordered the minister of state-owned enterprises and the Jakarta governor to immediately find a way to relocate residents away from the fuel storage area or to move the depot away from the neighborhood.
“Not only in here, but all state-owned vital objects must be audited and reevaluated to determine a safe buffer zone for the community, because this involves human life,” Widodo told reporters after visiting a temporary shelter for displaced people in North Jakarta’s Koja neighborhood.
National police chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo said a preliminary investigation showed the fire was caused by a technical problem involving excess pressure as the depot received fuel from Pertamina’s Balongan Refinery in West Java province.
“It was found that a fire occurred during a filling of Pertamax fuel,” Listyo told a news conference late Saturday, referring to a type of fuel oil produced by Pertamina.
He didn’t elaborate as investigators from Pertamina and the police were still working to confirm the cause of the fire, including by questioning dozens of witnesses and examining video recordings from surveillance cameras.
Residents living near the depot said they smelled a strong odor of gasoline, causing some people to vomit, after which thunder rumbled twice, followed by a huge explosion.
Sri Haryati, a mother of three, said the fire began to spread 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 smaller blasts that echoed across the neighborhood as orange flames jumped from the depot.
Rescuers were still searching for three people who were reported missing. About 35 people were receiving treatment in five hospitals, some of them in critical condition.
Listyo said more than 1,300 people were displaced and taking shelter in 10 government offices, a Red Cross command post and a sport stadium.
Pertamina’s head Nicke Widyawati apologized and said the company would provide help to the community and cooperate in the investigation.
“We will carry out a thorough evaluation and reflection internally to prevent similar incidents from happening again,” Widyawati said in a statement, adding that the company ensured the safe supply of fuel oil.
On Saturday, grieving relatives gathered at a police hospital’s morgue in eastern 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, a fire at the same fuel depot engulfed at least 40 houses, but no casualties were reported.
Indonesia’s State Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir told reporters that the government will remap safe zones for residential areas away from vital objects.
He said the incident showed the Plumpang area is not safe for the community, and the government is planning to move the fuel storage depot to Tanjung Priok port in northern Jakarta.
By Tatan Syuflana and Niniek Karmini