Jakarta (ANTARA) - North Jakarta wore a deserted look one Monday, with the Tanah Merah Bawah Street, Koja, devoid of children usually running late for school nor the sight of people catching public transport to get to work.

One would be hard-pressed to find gossiping ladies by vegetable vendors, too.

What remained were people looking long and hard at what was once a row of homes, though now, reduced to rubble and ashes. A fire that broke out in the Plumpang Pertamina Depot on Friday, March 3 evening, consumed everything in its way.

One would feel saddened on gazing upon the road. Each time people moved along, they would have to cover their noses to avoid inhaling the pungent smell and the dust upon the wake of each step.

The horizon is filled with charred infrastructures that one can spot to the left and right. Some still stand strong, albeit blackened by the flames, while others no longer have a comprehensible form.

The frames of what used to be two motorcycles sit by someone's garage.

Some people squat upon the remnants of the building, conversing with public order officers and police personnel. Some search barehanded for items in the rubble, with the hope that the items they discover could still be useful.

Behind the walls of the Plumpang Pertamina Depot, a middle-aged man, braving the scorching heat of the sun, crosses his arms, with his eyes glancing left and right in search of something amid the chaos. Imam, 51, works at the Koja Water Resources Division. He and eight others are looking for the body of a woman, who allegedly died after being crushed under the weight of the building's rubble.

"She is an elderly woman. About in her 50s or above, if I am not wrong," he said.

The search began on Sunday, March 5, at 10 a.m. local time, albeit with no result until now.

It all began the moment he and the others received a report of a family member, who went missing since the fire broke out. They suspected that she was trapped under the rubble. Hence, they made a dash to the location.

Upon arrival, Imam was taken aback, as the two-story building had been completely flattened to the ground from the fire incident.

"Before (the incident), the top floor was a rented space, and the floor below was a cosmetic store and clothing store," he recalled.

He presumed that the building was destroyed at the time of the explosion, as it was situated directly in front of Plumpang.

Admittedly, he and other personnel encountered some difficulties in finding the body in the debris, he said. Hence, they had to use an excavator to assist in their search efforts. In this way, the process would be easier.

Hoe, sickle, and anxiety

At sharp 10 a.m. local time, the search commenced. With a hoe readied in his right hand, he began searching for the body in the debris. Bit by bit, the materials were crushed, and the sand was moved. However, despite these efforts, there was no sight of the said body.

He changed his tool here and there for a more efficient search process. A crowbar was equipped in the hopes of clearing out the debris faster, so that the body would be found earlier, and yet, no success.

Iman was forced to use all his senses, including olfactory, in the quest. He sniffs through the air occasionally to locate the body, following the scent of decaying corpse.

At times, the scent appeared, though after a while, it just vanished. The condition was exacerbated by rains falling every 15 to 20 minutes, hindering the search process even further.

He admitted to having felt anxious during the entire ordeal. He was nervous, as he had to find that body, and the task spells huge responsibility, for there is a family worried sick about it.

He had never experienced anything like this before. Throughout his career in the Water Resources Division, his job was limited to cleaning clogged waterways, conducting flood mitigation, and repairing pipes or channels.

He had to swallow all the fear and anxiety, as he opted to do his duty. Hours later, when the clock struck 5 p.m. local time, the body was still not found. The search was halted and continued the next day.

Iman could give no guarantee that the body would be found, or if it would even be retrieved in one piece. One thing was certain. He and his peers would continue to work relentlessly despite the horrors lingering at the back of their minds.

President comes to intervene

When President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) visited the Rasela Child-friendly House in South Rawabadak, Koja, North Jakarta, on Sunday, March 5, he gave a directive to State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir and Acting Governor of Jakarta Heru Budi Hartono to relocate the residences of the fire incident's victims.

Jokowi stressed the urgency of the relocation, considering the plot near the oil depot was unsafe for human inhabitation.

Some plausible options include moving the Plumpang Pertamina Depot or moving people to better places.

"The decision will soon be made within one or two days by Pertamina, Jakarta Governor, so the solution would be clearer," the head of state remarked.

Shortly thereafter, Acting Jakarta Governor Hartono responded to the directive and expressed his commitment to conducting an evaluation of the Plumpang Pertamina Depot.

"The president has advised for the safety and security of people to be prioritized. Hence, evaluation will be performed to review zonation and (formulate) subsequent measures," he noted in a written statement on the same day.

He revealed that his administration will assist the victims in several aspects, such as the recovery process.

Moreover, Minister Thohir also highlighted his administration's measure following the directive. They would review the security system of the oil depot, given that it is considered as one of the state assets.

"As per the president's directive, we will review the security aspect of all oil depots, so that the incident, like the one in Plumpang, would not occur anymore," he stated.


The Jakarta Disaster Mitigation Agency noted that as per Sunday, March 5, some 421 people had sought shelter, with 121 of them in the North Jakarta Red Cross Office and 300 in the Rasela Child-Friendly House.

The death toll reached 19, comprising 14 adults and five children. Three children were still missing, and the search for them was still ongoing. Personnel of the National Defense Force were also involved in the search process.

The government extends assistance to the victims, among which are children traumatized by the incident, by dispatching a team from the North Jakarta Police Department and Greater Jakarta Police Department on Sunday.

"It is expected that this recovery program would assist the traumatized children after the incident last time," the head of sub-unit 1 of Narcotics at the North Jakarta Police Department Second Police Inspector Nurmi Syamsir stated.

Her administration and the volunteers assisted the North Jakarta Red Cross in entertaining the children, so they would still keep their chins up high during their stay at the shelter.

She and fellow policewomen also gave the kids some snacks and toys to keep them happy.

Moreover, they assisted other victims by providing them with necessary aid.

The search for victims of the explosion at the Plumpang Pertamina Depot was still underway. It was presumed that some were still buried under the rubble following the incident.

Both the authorities and families are still hopeful that these victims could be found.

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Editor: Rahmad Nasution
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