May 27, 2006

Indonesian quake kills thousands

By Achmad Sukarsono

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia (Reuters) - A dawn earthquake killed
more than 3,000 people around the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta
on Saturday, burying many under the rubble of their homes in a
scene survivors said was like the end of the world.

As night fell, terrified residents huddled outside their
ruined houses or in the grounds of mosques, churches and
schools in the heartland of Indonesia's main island of Java.

"It's pitch dark. We have to use candles and we are sitting
outside now. We are too scared to sleep inside. The radio keeps
saying there will be more quakes. We still feel the tremors,"
said Tjut Nariman on the outskirts of Yogyakarta.

The 6.2 magnitude quake struck at the crack of dawn when
many were still in bed. It was the third major tremor to hit
Indonesia in 18 months, the worst being the quake on December
26, 2004 and its resulting tsunami which left some 170,000
people dead or missing.

Indonesia sits on the Asia-Pacific region's so-called "Ring
of Fire," marked by heavy volcanic and tectonic activity.

"Buildings shook like pendulums, I thought it was
Armageddon," said cab driver Ngadiman, who was at work when the
quake struck.

Many bodies remained buried under rubble as authorities
struggled to get aid into the region. Several countries offered
medical relief teams and emergency supplies.

The wards and corridors of Sarjito hospital in Yogyakarta
city were crammed with injured survivors. Many more lay on the
hard ground outside under the night sky.

"Oh my god, where is the doctor, where is the doctor?"
cried one old man with a bruised face.

Farmer Karjiman from Bantul town lay in a corridor with his
injured wife and three-year-old daughter.

"My daughter here was buried under the rubble. We got her
out, but we could not save my other daughter ... it was just
horrible," he said.

The death toll had reached 3,002 by late Saturday night,
said the Social Affairs Ministry's disaster task force.

Bantul town, about 25 km (15 miles) south of Yogyakarta
city, was hit hardest. One official said the Bantul region
accounted for more than 2,000 of the dead.

In the outskirts of Yogyakarta, telephone services were
erratic and many houses were razed. Electricity had not resumed
by nightfall and many people burned sticks and shrubs for
light. Yogyakarta's airport was shut because of a damaged


The epicenter of the quake, which struck just before 6 a.m.
(2300 GMT), was offshore. Many near the coast feared it would
be followed by a tsunami and fled for higher ground.

No tsunami came but the fear lingered into the night.

Yogyakarta is near Mount Merapi, a volcano on top alert for
a major eruption. A vulcanologist said the volcano did not
cause the quake, but its activity had increased after the

Yogyakarta is about 25 km (15 miles) north of the Indian
Ocean coast and 440 km (275 miles) east of Jakarta. Yogyakarta
province, which includes the city, has a population of 3.2
million. Central Java province also suffered damage.

The largest Buddhist monument on Earth, Borobudur, was left
untouched but several structures nearby collapsed, said staff
at a hotel nearby. The temple 40 km (25 miles) from the city
was built some 1,200 years ago.

Borobudur and Yogyakarta's centuries-old royal palaces are
prime tourist attractions.

The Prambanan Hindu temple complex near Jakarta suffered
some damage but the main structure remained intact.

At Solo airport, schoolteacher Muhammad Yusan told Reuters
he had left Aceh, more than 1,000 miles away, on Saturday
morning to try to reach his family in Bantul.

"I lost my father, aunt and niece, but I can't confirm the
rest because I can't get hold of them," Yusan said. "I think
Bantul is flattened because most houses there are poorly built
and old."

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited Bantul and
Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari said medical teams had
been sent to the hardest-hit areas. The European Union, the
United States, Japan and UNICEF were among those to offer
immediate aid.

(Additional reporting by Achmad Sukarsono in Solo and Tomi
Soetjipto, Telly Nathalia, Lewa Pardomuan and Tan Ee Lyn in