Quake toll soars as hospitals struggle

The number of casualties from the Indonesian quake soared on Thursday as the United Nations said hospitals were still overcrowded and lacked basic supplies to treat the mass of injured.

The death toll rose to 6 234 while the number of those hurt in the disaster more than doubled to about 46 000, with more than 33 000 of them suffering serious injuries, the Social Affairs Ministry said.

Hospitals in the quake zone were still overwhelmed five days after Saturday’s 6,3-magnitude temblor rocked Central Java, with patients spilling out from wards and badly in need of care, a United Nations official said.

“Most of the hospitals are functioning, but are overloaded. There is a lack of space in the hospitals,” said Charlie Higgins, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Yogyakarta, the main city in the quake zone.

“It’s getting out the basic medical supplies to the hospitals that is important,” he told Agence France-Presse.

Foreign rescue teams from China, the United States and Singapore among others have set up field hospitals and weighed in to help overworked staff at area hospitals.

Higgins said most of those who needed life-saving emergency treatment had been treated and that aid agencies were now concerned about the long term.

“There is a need to move the focus from immediate life-saving care to more long-term treatment for those seriously injured, and the question of rehabilitation arises,” he said.

“They are trying to move people out from the wards and beds to their homes. But for some, the homes are ruined,” he said.
“So that is a problem.”

More than 67 000 homes were destroyed in the quake and more than 2 000 others were damaged, according to the Social Affairs Ministry.

The death toll could yet climb higher. A staff member at the Yogyakarta provincial disaster management centre, who only identified himself as Kus, said rescue teams were still looking for bodies under the rubble on Thursday.

“We have not halted efforts to search for bodies still trapped under the rubble,” Kus said.

“A team just left for the Imogiri region to clear rubble and look for bodies that may still be trapped.”

Indonesia has defended the earthquake relief effort from complaints by angry survivors that aid was too slow in reaching them.

Some survivors have spent five nights without shelter.

Military and rescue helicopters are delivering badly-needed food to isolated areas, and transporting the injured to hospital.

Wet weather and clogged roads have hampered distribution by trucks.

More than a dozen countries have sent emergency personnel to the area, while nearly a dozen more have offered cash and supplies.

The United States has set up a military field hospital in badly-damaged Sewon south of Yogyakarta, which was expected to become fully operational on Thursday.

“We’ve sent 20 kijangs [SUVs] from Yogyakarta to the Bantul hospital to identify and deliver patients in need of surgery to the US marine field hospital in Bantul district,” said Paul Dillon, spokesperson for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), an independent intergovernmental organisation.

“We’re very optimistic that this will help to clear out the backlog of patients who may not have received adequate medical treatment to this point.”

Indonesian Vice-President Yusuf Kalla on Thursday toured some of the worst-hit areas by helicopter. He spent 30 minutes surveying the damage in Central Java and Yogyakarta provinces, the Detikcom online news service reported. - Sapa-AFP

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