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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 October 2006, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Java villages drown in mud lake
By Lucy Williamson
BBC News, Surabaya

People try to rescue valuable items from the flooded area
The spill has now turned into a lake of mud
In the village of Porong Atas, just outside Indonesia's second city of Surabaya, people are preparing for a flood.

Using pickaxes and shovels, labourers dig a narrow canal around the edge of the village, past the grocery store with its boxes of biscuits stacked outside and a newly arrived army tent.

This sleepy place is now on the front-line of a shifting tide, but it is not water that is approaching, but mud.

Peer over the canal wall and just metres away the fields and buildings are covered with the sticky sludge, which has been streaming from a fissure in the earth since early June.

With the rains coming, people know how easily they could lose everything.

Some, like Poiman, already have.

Refugees

Dried-out mud
The mud first began spurting in June

Poiman fled to Porong Atas with his family a month ago after his old house was submerged by the spreading sludge.

"We're refugees," he said. "If it turns out not to be safe here, we'll just move again, though I don't know where."

Poiman's family shares a simple concrete house in the village with another family - seven people and the possessions they salvaged crammed into two rooms.

"I was frightened in the old house," says his wife, "but it's OK here, I feel a bit safer. I'm just worried about money. I hope I can get a job."

Poiman is making bricks out of the dried-out mud.

It is not much of a living; no-one has bought many of his bricks yet, he says, but the mud is there, it is free and he has got to do something.

Spreading further

The rent on Poiman's concrete room has been paid for by compensation he received from a local gas company, Lapindo Brantas.

map

The company has been accused of causing the disaster by drilling an exploratory gas well, close to where the mud spill happened, though the company has suggested the eruption was caused by seismic activity rather than its drilling.

When the mud first began spurting up through a crack in the earth, it was producing around 5,000 cubic metres a day. Now it is more like 130,000 cubic metres a day.

The lake of mud has spread further and further across the area, covering 400 hectares (988 acres), submerging eight villages and forcing more than 10,000 people from their homes.

And there is no sign of it stopping.

River canal

Drive close to the centre of the spill now and it is easy to spot plumes of white steam curling up from the spluttering, spitting heart of the so called "mud volcano".

Some scientists believe it could in fact be unstoppable.

Sidoarjo (photo: CNES 2005-2006)
The mud flow has continued to spread since it erupted in May

The need for drastic measures is keenly felt by the government, even at the other end of Java.

In his office in the capital, Jakarta, Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar has agreed to a controversial plan, to channel the mud into a nearby river and out to sea.

Several blue plastic pipes already run down to the Porong river, carrying muddy water from the surrounding area.

But the dredgers that the government has promised have not arrived yet and there is a worry that mud and silt in the water could eventually clog up the river and make the problem even harder to solve.

Environmentalists are worried too.

Local environmental group Walhi says the plan will destroy marine life in the area and that it could take 30 years to repair the damage.

They criticise the government for not doing more sooner to limit the problem.

But squeezed between the river and the encroaching mud are signs of support for the government's emergency strategy - banners hung from trees tell officials to save the people, not the fish.

Local people, it seems, are prepared to back anything that puts an end to this crisis.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
See the attempts being made to combat the rising mud



SEE ALSO
Indonesia to divert mud into sea
27 Sep 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Mud flood threatens Java residents
17 Aug 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Indonesia
18 Jul 06 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Indonesia
19 Jul 06 |  Country profiles

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