A powerful earthquake flattened buildings in central Indonesia early yesterday, killing at least 2,700 people and injuring thousands more in the country's worst disaster since the 2004 tsunami.
The magnitude 6.2 quake struck at 5:54am near the ancient city of Yogyakarta as most people were sleeping, causing death and damage in many nearby towns.
Houses, hotels and government buildings collapsed, sending hysterical survivors running through the streets. Many roads and bridges were destroyed, hindering efforts to get pickup trucks filled with wounded to hospitals, already overflowing with patients.
Some villagers started digging mass graves.
"I couldn't help my wife," said Subarjo, 70, sobbing as he sat beside her body. "I was trying to rescue my children ... and then the house collapsed. I couldn't help her."
As several aftershocks shook the region, many residents were too afraid to return home, wandering dazed and confused in the streets, many in tears.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who ordered the army to start evacuating victims, arrived in the densely populated Province of Central Java yesterday afternoon with a team of Cabinet ministers to oversee rescue operations.
Twelve hours after the quake struck, the number of dead stood at 2,727, said Social Affairs Ministry official Sopar Jaya, with two-thirds of the fatalities occurring in the devastated district of Bantul.
"There is only one house remaining standing here, that of the head of the hamlet, but even that is not safe anymore as the walls are cracked," said Ngadiyo, 63, crouching in front of the rubble of his house in central Bantul.
"I have never gone through an earthquake this strong during my entire life," said his elder brother, Jodi Riwono, 46, who was trapped unconscious under rubble before being rescued by a grandson.
Arifin Muhadi of the Indonesian Red Cross, said: "The numbers just keep rising," adding that nearly 2,900 people were hurt.
Doctors struggled to care for the injured, hundreds of whom were lying on plastic sheets and straw mats outside the overcrowded hospitals, some hooked to intravenous drips dangling from trees.
"We need help here," said Kusmarwanto of Bantul Muhammadiyah Hospital, the closest hospital to the quake's epicenter, adding that his hospital alone had 39 bodies.
At nearby Dr Sardjito Hospital, health officials tallied 60 dead, but more bodies were lined up in the hallway and some family members were taking them home before they could be added to the official toll.
"We have hundreds of injured people, our emergency care unit is overwhelmed," said Heru Nugroho.
The quake cracked the runway at the airport in Yogyakarta, closing it to aircraft until at least today while inspections take place, Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa said.
In Bantul district, rescuers tried to pull bodies from the rubble as residents dug mass graves.
Rows of corpses awaited burial beneath a blazing sun, village heads recorded their names to add to the official death toll.
Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) yesterday expressed its sympathy to the Indonesian government via the Taipei Economic and Trade Office in Jakarta and the Indonesian Economic and Trade Office in Taipei.
A statement issued by MOFA said it would send a senior officer to offer assistance to the Department of Health, which will dispatch medical personnel and supplies.