Mon, May 29, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Death toll nears 4,000 in Indonesia

OVERWHELMED Inundated hospitals struggled to treat the injured as the Red Cross said 200,000 had been left homeless and aid offers poured in from around the world


Exhausted and grieving survivors dug through their crumpled homes yesterday searching for clothes, food and valuables after a powerful earthquake hit central Indonesia, killing nearly 4,000 people.

The magnitude-6.3 quake struck early on Saturday and injured thousands more in the heart of densely populated Java island, in the country's worst disaster since the 2004 tsunami. It also triggered fears that a nearby rumbling volcano would erupt and caused serious damage to the world-famous 9th century Prambanan temple.

The disaster zone stretched across hundreds of square kilometers of mostly farming communities in Yogyakarta Province. The worst devastation was in the town of Bantul, where more than 2,700 people were killed and 80 percent of the homes were flattened.

"I have to start my life from zero again," said Poniran, whose 5-year-old daughter Ellie was killed in the quake.

Poniran dug up his daughter, who was still breathing, from the rubble of her bedroom, but she died in a hospital awaiting treatment along with hundreds of others.

"Her last words were `Daddy, Daddy,'" he said.

At least 3,875 people were killed in the quake, according to command post officials from the affected districts. The social ministry said around 4,200 died, but later revised its figures downward.

About 200,000 people were left homeless, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent.

They issued an emergency appeal for nearly US$10 million and separate aid pledges poured in from Western and Asian states.

Aid workers said the immediate priority was to treat the injured, but warned that dwindling supplies of food and water and a lack of housing could pose long-term challenges.

"Clearly the top priority right now is the treatment of injured people," UNICEF spokesman John Budd said.

"There are three hospitals in Bantul and five in Yogyakarta -- all are overwhelmed and they are not even treating the slightly injured any more," he said.

Anton Susanto, a member of the UNICEF assessment team already in the quake zone, said 30 percent to 40 percent of those injured were children, with many suffering from head wounds and broken bones.

"People are just laid out everywhere," he said. "People are still very, very traumatized. Frequent aftershocks are still going on," he added.

Tens of thousands spent Saturday night sleeping in any open space available -- on streets, in cassava fields, even on the narrow paths between rice fields.

Survivors searched the ruins of their homes yesterday for anything still usable and complained that they hadn't received any aid.

"We're short of everything -- clothes, food, water, all are gone. We are poor people, but our lives still matter," said Budi Wiyana, 63, whose house was destroyed.

Offers of help came from around the world including the US, Pakistan, Canada, China, Britain, South Korea and France. Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and Norway despatched emergency medical teams.

Meanwhile, three more strong earthquakes rattled the Asia-Pacific region yesterday.

An undersea quake measuring 6.2 hit Papua New Guinea at 0312 GMT and about 20 minutes later a 6.7-magnitude quake shook the ocean floor near the Pacific islands of Tonga, the US Geological Survey said. There were no reports of any casualties or damage.

Hours later a 5.5-magnitude quake struck off the northern coast of the Philippines.

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