On the route from Surabaya to Malang you gradually move from the high energy of a bustling city to the more relaxed pace of small country towns. The countryside of farms and fields however remains well concealed; hidden from view by shops, malls, and restaurants. What is not hidden or concealed are the 40 foot tusks marking the entrance to East Java’s safari park, the massive Chinese Hindu Temple, or the KFC mosque…I am not kidding!
Eventually though, on the left of the highway a wall of dirt and stone takes shape. Both the suddeness in which appears and its incredible size leaves you awestruck. Behind this wall is one of the worlds largest man-made disasters…the Lapindo Mud Flow. An outpouring of liquid mud so massive that to date it has submerged six villages, destoyed countless lives, threatens to engulf more, and has cost billions of dollars. The one thing it hasnt done is create worldwide awareness of this tragedy.
On May 28, 2006, PT Lapindo Brantas, an energy exploration company, targeted gas in the area and began drilling a borehole. Gas erupted and local villagers who observed the ensuing mud flow had little choice but to flee for their lives and head to higher ground. Over 9,000 people lost their homes and were displaced. The amount of mud being released is measured at 1 million cubic feet per day and the life expectancy of the reservoir is estimated at 25 to 30 years. These are the facts.
Climbing the wooden bamboo steps to the top of the 50 foot levee will result in a gasp of amazement; guaranteed. It is unlikely you have have ever seen anything like this. The disaster has created a cottage industry of hawkers selling DVD’s and impromptu guides offering motorcycle rides around the perimeter; a 30 minute journey.
Standing on the levee provides an impressive perspective. A 32 foot deep ocean of mud to one side and day to day life on the other; 32 feet lower. One can easily stand there and speculate on impending disasters and the potential for such a devasting fracture is a real possibilty. The Indonesian government is working to continue its program of containment however spills onto the highways and into the surrounding villages have occurred.
© Written by Tim O’Callaghan, Indo Discovery Travel
© Photograhs by Tim O’Callaghan and Geoff Bromilow
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