Associated France Press (AFP) 29/5/2006
Indonesia declares emergency as quake toll nears 5,000
by Elisia Yeo
BANTUL, Indonesia (AFP) - Indonesia is struggling to cope with the scale of the earthquake disaster, declaring a state of emergency as hospitals overflowed with injured and heavy rains lashed thousands of homeless survivors.
The death toll rose to nearly 5,000 and exhausted troops and emergency teams who have clawed through debris since Saturday’s quake in central Java continued to find bodies which families carried away for burial in makeshift graves.
Power blackouts and overnight rain hampered rescue work and heaped misery on some 200,000 people made homeless in the disaster, many of whom faced spending a third night out in the open under tarpaulins.
On the road to Bantul, the district hardest-hit by the quake, young men lined the roads, carrying signs reading: "requesting aid" and "please give aid".
Wooden beams from collapsed houses stuck up from the ground like toothpicks, and broken ceiling tiles and bricks littered the ground.
Survivors too terrified to return home as hundreds of aftershocks rattled the region, hung out washing on lines strung between trees, or spread what little clothing they had left on blue tarpaulins they used for shelter.
Adding to their fear, Mount Merapi -- a volcano north of the quake’s epicenter -- continued to simmer after weeks of seismic activity that saw 20,000 people evacuated from their homes amid a major eruption alert.
Vice President Yusuf Kalla said the government had declared a three-month emergency period in the quake zone and allocated 75 billion rupiah (eight million dollars) for emergency relief.
International rescuers flew into the devastated region, including a 20-strong search and rescue team from Taiwan and an 87-member Malaysian rescue team which headed out of Bantul in a convoy.
"I heard there are no more bodies trapped in the rubble," team commander Ahmad Zailani told AFP, explaining that his team hoped to help construct temporary housing for survivors or clear some of the rubble.
Paris-based aid charity Medecins sans Frontieres sent a surgical team to the quake zone, centred on the lush green farming belt south of the ancient city of Yogyakarta.
"We have to get to the outlying areas, where the dead and injured have not yet been counted," said Vincent Cauche, Indonesia coordinator for the non-governmental organization Medecins du Monde.
"We presume that the injured there have not had access to health care facilities, as their wounds have prevented them from travelling."
Hospitals overwhelmed with five times their normal patient load begged for more medical staff and supplies to treat the thousands of injured who overflowed from their wards, raising fears of disease.
"Waste management in the hospitals is now critical. There is human waste everywhere. The situation is quite serious," said UNICEF spokesman John Budd.
Budd said that United Nations agencies were trying to encourage people to stay near their homes to prevent makeshift refugee camps from forming which would create sanitation and water problems.
At Yogyakarta’s Sardjito hospital, patients lay on mats in dirty hallways and outside corridors with only thin sarongs to protect them from the rain.
"The first thing we need is nurses during this first week. We must have them," the hospital’s disaster team chief Sutaryo told AFP.
The relief effort, spearheaded by volunteers distributing food, water, tents and baby kits, was given a boost as Yogyakarta’s damaged airport was reopened for commercial flights, allowing five humanitarian aid flights to arrive Sunday.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has issued an emergency appeal for nearly 10 million dollars and aid pledges and medical assistance is also flowing in from overseas.
The quake was Indonesia’s third major disaster in 18 months, following the 2004 Asian tsunami catastrophe that killed 168,000 in Sumatra and another quake that killed more than 600 people in Nias in March last year.