June 4, 2006

Quake survivors throng churches in Indonesia’s Java

By Michael Perry

BANTUL, Indonesia (Reuters) - Christian survivors of the
earthquake that devastated areas of Java island prayed outside
damaged churches on Sunday, just over a week after the disaster
killed more than 6,000 people.

International aid agencies have fanned out into the
worst-hit areas where tens of thousands are homeless and many
injured victims still need help. However, Indonesia's foreign
minister said no additional foreign medical aid was necessary
and groups should now focus on reconstruction.

The official death toll from the May 27 disaster remains at
around 6,200.

Churchgoers in the ancient Javanese royal city of
Yogyakarta, 440 km (270 miles) east of Jakarta, chose to hold
Sunday mass outside because, although some churches were still
standing, most bore visible cracks on their walls and spires.

"I know that the disaster has made many people suffer. I am
here now to pray for safety," said Purasto, kneeling under a
tree in front of his church with his wife.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation and
Muslims make up the majority in Yogyakarta city.

However, 17 percent of the city's half-million population
is Christian and many of its leading hospitals and schools are
Catholic institutions.

In the nearby area of Bantul, which suffered the most
damage, Catholic priest Gregorius Utomo from the Sacred Heart
church told Reuters that aid from tents to blankets has mostly
come not from the government but from private donors elsewhere
in Java.


"We need to calm people. They are still in panic. We need
to give them aid for daily use because they have nothing," he

A wedding ceremony went ahead nearby with bride and groom
clad in traditional Javanese garb facing a simple cross.

Survivors throughout the affected zone, an area larger than
Hong Kong, also live in fear of the aftershocks that have
shaken the region since the big quake. Victims rush from their
squalid tents whenever a jolt occurs.

A senior vulcanologist at Indonesia's energy and minerals
ministry told a news conference the community must be prepared.

"Will there be another devastating quake? Yes but I don't
know when," said Surono, explaining that major earthquakes had
hit the area in 1867, 1943 and 1981 but none had killed on
anything close to the scale of last week's magnitude-6.3 jolt.

Hospitals in the region were overwhelmed by the influx of
patients in the early days after the quake but that problem has
faded due to quick response from local and foreign groups.

"Principally, the critical period has passed. However,
there is the potential of new health problems due to the
environment because of the collapsed houses. Breathing ailments
and diarrhea are indeed threats," Yogyakarta provincial
secretary Bambang Susanto Priyohadi told Reuters.

More than 20,000 people had to be treated in hospitals
after the quake but there were more than 130,000 outpatients,
the World Health Organization said.

Hospitals and clinics have told patients to return to their
villages but many quake survivors said they would prefer to
stay because they have no proper place to live.


Many have been living in flimsy shelters at the sites of
their former homes, now reduced to rubble.

The risk of infectious disease remains high because of the
crowding and devastation in the quake-hit area.

There have been worries over survivors taking refuge in
chicken coops, with potential exposure to the bird flu virus in
a country that has recorded 36 human deaths from the H5N1

"With or without bird flu concerns, they should be removed
from those places. If there is no other choice, those places
must be cleansed with high-pressure water and disinfectant,"
said Sari Setiogi, WHO spokesman in Indonesia. He did note that
none of Indonesia's human bird flu deaths come from the quake

Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said the quake zone no
longer needed extra foreign medical help.

"It has been enough. We can suggest that if they want to
help, they should focus on rehabilitation and reconstruction
efforts," he told Jakarta-based Radio Elshinta.

The United Nations has announced plans for a six-month $103
million relief program. The Asian Development Bank has offered
a $60 million package of grants and soft loans to Indonesia for
rehabilitation efforts.

(additional reporting by Lewa Pardomuan)