BREBES, INDONESIA – Twelve people died during a massive three-day traffic jam in Indonesia that stretched more than 20 kilometers (13 miles) and brought thousands of holidaymakers to a complete standstill, an official said on Friday.
The horrific traffic buildup at a major highway junction at Brebes, a city on the main island of Java, was so bad that Indonesians dubbed the disastrous toll gate “Brexit”, from the words “Brebes exit”.
Roads across the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country are choked every year at the end of the holy month of Ramazan, as millions head to villages to celebrate Eid, which was celebrated on Wednesday.
But the chaos at the “Brexit” junction this year was particularly acute in the three days before Eid, as tens of thousands of cars crammed the arterial highway, transport ministry spokesperson Hemi Pramuraharjo told AFP.
“In terms of this Brexit case, there’s been a total of 12 victims over different days,” he said. The deaths occurred between July 3 and July 5, not on a single day as earlier reported, he said.
Pramuraharjo said several of the victims were elderly while others died from fatigue and other health complications. Local media reported that a one-year-old suffering from fume poisoning was also among the deceased.
More than 400 motorists have died on Indonesia’s roads so far this holiday season, including those in the “Brexit” jam, Pramuraharjo said.
Accidents are not uncommon during the holiday rush, particularly on the potholed roads of overcrowded Java, home to more than half of Indonesia’s 255 million people.
Frustrated motorists stuck in the melee posted pictures to social media showing cars snaking back for miles. Aerial shots captured a sea of motionless vehicles, with some drivers seeking respite on the roadside.
Pramuraharjo said roadside vendors and crowded markets near the junction compounded the chaos, leading to lines of traffic “more than 20 kilometres” in length.
“There is a bottleneck there, where there’s a petrol station very nearby and many people queue,” he said. “There’s no space on the road. We don’t have a solution.”
Responding to the controversy, the health ministry denied earlier reports the “Brexit” victims had died on a single day, and urged motorists planning a long journey to rest and take all necessary precautions.
The ministry’s Achmad Yurianto also warned that the heavy use of air conditioning could also lead to an increase in carbon dioxide within the cramped confines of the car.