June 24, 2007 : Last updated 05:05 pm (Thai local time)
Jakarta – Indonesian experts scrambled Wednesday to deal with a massive water spray gushing from the ground near a “mud volcano” of toxic sludge on Indonesia’s Java island.
Ahmad Zulkarnain, the spokesman for the government team handling the disaster, said that the five-metre (16-feet) high spray began before dawn on Saturday through the floor of a restaurant in Jatirejo village, near the mudflow area.
“We are going to channel the water to the river to prevent it from flooding the area,” he told AFP, adding that workers had failed on Tuesday to “plug” the water.
“We are afraid that if we do not hurry, it may submerge the village, highway and railway,” he said.
Zulkarnain said there had been about 60 incidents of water or gas spurting from the ground near the so-called mud volcano, which erupted in May last year, inundating an area of some 600 hectares (1,500 acres).
But this spray has been the biggest so far, he added.
Satria Bijaksana, a scientist from the Bandung Institute of Technology, told AFP that the accumulation of mud in levees and dams — reaching up to 17 metres high — had put a lot of pressure on the ground.
“We have a very shallow water aquifer: most probably water comes out from existing wells,” he said.
“I don’t think that putting a plug into the hole would be of much help.”
The original disaster was triggered when an exploratory gas drilling team pierced a layer of strata, releasing the mud which engulfed entire villages and factories before dirt embankments were constructed to contain the toxic sludge.
Attempts by local and international engineers to plug the flow, including by dropping thousands of concrete balls into the yawning crater, have failed.
Spokesman Zulkarnain said his team had faced resistance from residents who refused to cooperate as they are yet to receive compensation from local gas company PT Lapindo Brantas.
Lapindo, a company linked to Indonesia’s welfare minister Aburizal Bakrie, has been blamed for the disaster and been ordered to pay millions of dollars for the cost of containing the mud and to the victims.
The Jakarta Post reported Wednesday that enterprising villagers were starting to charge people to look at the spray.
The report cited Anwar Nasution, chairman of the Supreme Audit Agency, as saying that the mudflow had so far cost Indonesia 3.7 billion dollars, but Lapindo had only paid 4.9 trillion rupiah (562 million dollars) as of January.
Agence France Presse