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Deaths in Jakarta after levee breach

The colonial-era levees of Jakarta have again wreaked havoc on residents, this time killing more than 60 people. Heavy rains on Thursday were too much for a dam in South Jakarta, and in the early morning hours Friday it gave way, causing a 20-hectare lake to rush into several middle-class neighborhoods.

Witnesses said it was like a mini-tsunami, as a wall of mud and water came crashing through homes, ripping up everything in its path as it poured into the low-lying valley.

“I was awoken by the sounds of my neighbors screaming for help,” said Jorko, whose own house was chest-deep in water. “I found my friends and we ran for higher ground.”

Jakarta’s aging levees and dams have been an ongoing concern for authorities, but little has been done to renovate or improve them. The dam that broke Friday dated to the 1930s, when it was built by the Dutch colonial administration. Residents said they had noticed cracks in the dam weeks ago and had reported it to authorities.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono interrupted his election campaign to visit the disaster site Friday afternoon. He spoke with residents and rescue workers.

“The dam will be rebuilt and we will reconsider how it is constructed," he said at the scene.

Jakarta is beset by severe flooding every year during the rainy season and the city’s network of ancient dikes, dams and levees are usually cited as a major part of the problem. Plans to update them, however, are continuously put on hold.

The death toll from the breach is expected to rise as rescue workers search for survivors. Their efforts have been hampered, though, by more heavy rains Friday evening. (Read more about the disaster here.)