Massive explosion and fire in Plumpang near my home in North Jakarta / followed by flooding

At about 9:20pm, Sunday January 19 a massive explosion occurred at the Pertamina fuel depot behind my housing complex. I was speaking with Novita when the shockwave rocked my home, with a sound as if a linebacker had put his shoulder into my door.

My first thought was of thunder or an earthquake. But then I realized it was an explosion. Walking out onto my balcony confirmed that thought – the sky was pulsating with a deep crimson. Huge flames were soon licking the sky, belching black sooty smoke skyward.

Without a second thought, I told Novita to get in the car. She thought I was overreacting and felt we should remain home until we knew more details. I knew that the fuel depot was quite large with many storage units – if one had blown it would be possible that a domino effect could occur – and with the depot only a few hundred meters from our home, I wasn’t taking ANY chances.

My neighbors were calm – just stepping out of their homes, some asking where we were going, but no one appeared to be leaving. We drove about a kilometer away to my workplace, where we waited for about half an hour. The sky was pulsing with more intensity and Novita finally convinced me to return to our home briefly to pick up the vital necessities. (yes, I did grab my camera gear – I’m a fanatic)

When we prepared to leave the second time, the scene in my neighborhood was much different – a bit of paranoia had set in and people were scrambling to get out.

There was no news covering the explosion, and the only source of communication that I found useful was Twitter. I attempted to keep people up to date since there was no news from major media.

We were offered a chance to stay with friends nearby and welcomed their invitation. Once things were secure and safe, we were able to gain full perspective of what had happened. The TV stations were already at the scene by this time, allowing Jakartans a better view of what was happening.

The Jakarta Globe used Twitter to ask for permission to call and interview me. The results of which may be read via this link and this link.

My friend took his motorcycle out to get a better look, and from near the scene, was able to get some amazing footage from his video camera. Later in the evening CNN called and he provided them with the video from the explosion.

I considered going back to take photos from a higher vantage point, but as I was preparing to leave, a torrential downpour began, changing my plans.

The rains brought bad flooding in Kelapa Gading, which have trapped us all day at our friend’s home. The only vehicles making it through the roads were trucks and SUVs. We’ve arranged for transportation to get home for the evening, but will leave our car here for now.

The cause of the explosion is still unknown, as quoted from The Jakarta Post:

“Jakarta Police promised to investigate the cause of the blaze but could not say if the fire was caused by an accident or by sabotage.

Police last year uncovered a plot to blow up the Plumpang depot, and detained five men who they said were members of regional militant group Jemaah Islamiyah.”

Never a dull moment in Indonesia.


BBC video showing the fire