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Indonesia fuel depot fire kills 19, three still missing

Indonesian rescuers and firefighters have searched for three people who were still missing under the rubble of charred houses and buildings after a large fire spread from a fuel storage depot in the capital and killed at least 19 people.

The Plumpang fuel storage station, operated by state-run oil and gas company Pertamina, is near a densely populated area in the Tanah Merah neighbourhood in North Jakarta. It supplies a quarter of Indonesia's fuel needs.

At least 260 firefighters and 52 fire engines extinguished the blaze just before midnight on Friday after it tore through the neighbourhood for more than two hours, fire officials said.

Footage showed hundreds of people running in panic as thick plumes of black smoke and orange flames filled the sky.

National police chief General Listyo Sigit Prabowo said a preliminary investigation showed the fire was caused by a technical problem involving excess pressure as the depot received fuel from Pertamina's Balongan Refinery in West Java province.

He did not elaborate as investigators from Pertamina and the police were still working to establish the cause of the fire.

Residents living near the depot said they smelled a strong odour of petrol, causing some people to vomit, after which thunder rumbled twice, followed by a huge explosion.

Rescuers on Sunday were still searching for three people who were reported missing. About 35 people were receiving treatment in five hospitals, some of them in critical condition.

Listyo said more than 1300 people were displaced and taking shelter in 10 government offices, a Red Cross command post and a sport stadium.

Pertamina's head Nicke Widyawati apologised and said the company would provide help to the community and co-operate in the investigation.

On Saturday, grieving relatives gathered at a police hospital's morgue in eastern Jakarta to try to identify their loved ones.

Officials said the victims were burned beyond recognition and could only be identified through DNA and dental records.

In 2014, a fire at the same fuel depot engulfed at least 40 houses, but no casualties were reported.