20 August 2008

Indonesia To Relocate Key Railway Threatened By Mud Volcano

Indonesia To Relocate Key Railway Threatened By Mud Volcano

by Staff Writers

(photo: Suara Merdeka)

On the left is the earth dam that is supposed to prevent the mud from flooding the tracks. It has, however, burst open several times (photo: TR).

Jakarta (AFP) Feb 13, 2007

A key railway line threatened by a massive "mud volcano" which has forced thousands of people to flee their homes on the Indonesian island of Java will be relocated, officials said Tuesday. A gas well near Surabaya in East Java operated by PT Lapindo Brantas has spewed steaming mud since May last year, submerging villages, factories and fields. The advancing sea of mud is now threatening to swamp the railway connecting Indonesia's second largest city Surabaya with Malang and Banyuwangi.

Recent downpours have also affected parts of the line, forcing trains to slow down to avoid accidents.

But Rudi Novrianto, spokesman for the government team handling the crisis, said construction to relocate the line "will not start until next year."

"We are now doing the technical design," he told AFP.

In the meantime, Novrianto said there was no other option but to use the current track.

The government will shift the track, which currently runs very close to the mud volcano zone, four kilometres (more than two miles) from its present location.

State railway operator PT Kereta Api said it lacked the 450 billion rupiah (50 million dollars) required to relocate the 18-kilometre track and would ask the government team for financial help, detikcom news portal reported.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered Lapindo to pay 3.8 trillion rupiah (420 million dollars) in compensation and costs.

Various efforts have been made to stop the flow and divert the spewing mud into a nearby river, none of which has been successful. Coordinating Minister for Social Welfare Aburizal Bakrie claimed last month that the flow was a "natural disaster" unrelated to the drilling activities of Lapindo, which belongs to a group controlled by his family.

However, a study by British experts said the eruption was most likely caused by drilling for gas.

In addition, 13 people died after an explosion in November when an underground gas pipeline burst following subsidence that was blamed on the mud leak.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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