Quake in Indonesia kills 3 000

A powerful earthquake in Indonesia killed more than 3 000 people on Saturday, reducing whole villages to rubble in the nation’s worst catastrophe since the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Countless victims were buried alive when the 6,2 magnitude quake struck at dawn, turning houses into tombs of stone and setting off panic in a country that has been plagued by natural disasters.

An official at the Social Affairs Ministry’s disaster relief centre said at least 3 002 people were dead and more than 2 500 seriously injured in the quake on the south coast of Java island.

The Indonesian Red Cross said about 200 000 people had been displaced. The death count was being updated almost by the hour. Victims who survived went streaming into overwhelmed hospitals, bloodied and terrified, as tens of thousands more were left homeless around the ancient city of Yogyakarta on Java’s densely populated south coast.

“I have never gone through an earthquake this strong during my entire life,” said Jodi Riwono (46) who was trapped unconscious in the wreckage of his home before a grandson pulled him to safety.

“I do not know what we did,” said Riwono, his legs covered in purple bruises.

“But we must have sinned for God to be angry like this.”

First news of the quake set off frightening memories of the Indian Ocean tsunami two years ago, as thousands of panicked residents fled to higher ground, fearing a repetition of the deadly giant waves.

The area had already been on edge for weeks amid fears that the nearby volcano at Mount Merapi, rumbling with molten lava for weeks, would erupt.

Many could not escape the quake and were buried under collapsed buildings or struck by flying rocks and debris as the temblor devastated towns and villages near Yogyakarta, 400km from the capital Jakarta.

Damage to roads, power and telecommunications was hampering the rescue effort, said a local police chief, Sampurnojati.

“Electricity is out and communication is difficult,” he told ElShinta radio.

One of the worst hit areas was the Bantul district south of Yogyakarta, which was flattened.

“There is only one house remaining standing,” said Ngadiyo (63) crouching in front of his ruined house.
“But even that is not safe any more.”

Emergency crews rushed to the worst-hit areas as officials warned the death toll could rise. Hospitals struggled to cope with the crush of victims.

Heru Nugroho, spokesperson for the Sardjito hospital in Yogyakarta, said that around 1 500 victims were being treated at the site, many of them badly injured and waiting in corridors.

People lay with broken arms and legs on the tiled floors of the hospital, which were covered in blood.

“We have been working non-stop since this morning,” said Agus, a nurse at nearby Muhammadiyah hospital. “There is still a lot to do.”

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono raced to the area, urging rescuers to work round the clock and ordering the military to evacuate victims as soon as possible.

“The first priority is to save lives,” he said.

The quake forced the closure of the airport in Yogyakarta, Detikcom news portal said, with buildings damaged and cracks in the runway. Flights were diverted to the nearby city of Solo.

A tsunami scare started when a police official told local radio that the earthquake was to be followed by tidal waves.

“We panicked,” local resident Clemon Cilik told the state Antara news agency. “We were ready to flee.” The killer waves never came, but the fear was evident on the frightened faces of the locals.

Aid agencies were sending tents and food to the area to help those left homeless, while an appeal for blood donors was launched.

As several aftershocks shook the region, residents were to afraid to return home, wandering dazed and confused in the streets, many in tears.

More than 20 000 residents living in the shadow of Mount Merapi were already staying in emergency shelters.

An Indonesian Red Cross spokesperson told the BBC that five action teams had been dispatched to the area and 21 field hospital units were operating at full capacity.

Britain and France offered aid while Russian President Vladimir Putin and other foreign officials expressed their condolences.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where the meeting of continental plates causes high volcanic and seismic activity. - AFP

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