BANTUL, Indonesia, May 27 -- A powerful earthquake shook a densely populated region of the Indonesian island of Java Saturday morning, and early estimates by officials suggested several thousand people were killed or injured and tens of thousands were left homeless.The epicenter of the magnitude 6.2 quake was about 15 miles southwest of Yogyakarta, a city of half a million, and about 15 miles south of Semerang, a city of over a million. The area is about 250 miles east of Jakarta near the southern coast of the island.
While officials were still assembling casualty reports, all put the number of dead at no less than 1,500 and many estimates were close to 3,000. Sopar Jaya, of Indonesia's Social Affairs Ministry, said they had received reports of more than 2,900 dead, the Associated Press reported. Other local officials reached by phone and speaking on the radio also spoke of thousands of dead. Idham Sanawi, the mayor of Bantul, just south of Yogyakarta, said on the radio that there were 2,000 dead in this town alone and that they had already buried 400 people in mass graves. He said 70 percent of the houses in the city were damaged and uninhabitable and that more than 100,000 people were moving into refugee camps.
"We need medicine. We need tents. We need paramedics," he said. Yogyakarta provincial secretary Bambang Susanto Prihardi, speaking on Elshinta news radio, gave an area-by-area breakdown of casualties totaling 1,555, the Reuters news agency reported. Government and hospital officials said that many people remained buried or trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings, while more deaths might be going unreported by families keeping and burying the bodies, wire services said. Arifin Muhadi of the Indonesian Red Cross told AP that nearly 3,400 people were injured. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, local hospitals and rescue workers were overwhelmed. Rescue teams and health workers from other parts of the country rushed to the area to help, and international relief organizations said they were sending in aid also.
The quake struck at about 6 a.m. Yogyakarta time Saturday (nearly 7 p.m. Friday EDT), according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It occurred about six miles underground. Witnesses reported repeated tremors, some lasting a full minute. Reteno, a paramedic in a hospital near Yogyakarta, said by phone that he thought nearby Mount Merapi, a volcano that has been on top alert this month, was erupting when the shaking began, causing ceiling tiles to drop to the floor in his home and knocking over motorbikes parked on the street. A vulcanologist in Yogyakarta told wire services that the quake was not caused by the volcano, but Merapi's activity increased after the shock, sending debris over one side of the mountain. Since most residents of that area have been evacuated because of the increasing volcanic activity, there were no reports of injuries from the latest eruption.
Bambang Dwiyanto of the Energy and Mineral Ministry told AP that the quake could trigger even more activity or an eruption from the volcano. "It will influence the activities of Mount Merapi, particularly in the lava dome," said Dwiyanto, head of the ministry's geological division. Yogyakarta's royal palaces and the nearby Borobudur temple complex are prime attractions for domestic and foreign tourists, and many foreigners study the Indonesian language at schools in the city that offer intensive courses. The Reuters news agency said local residents reported that the temple complex was not damaged by the quake. Thousands of residents took refuge in Yogyakarta's main square while others sheltered in the compounds of scores of mosques, churches and hospitals throughout the region. TV footage showed damaged hotels and government buildings, and several collapsed buildings. Roads and bridges were destroyed, hindering efforts to get the wounded to hospitals. Some phone lines also were cut, the AP said.
The runway at Yogyakarta's runway was also cracked, closing it until repairs can be made, government officials said. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered the army to help evacuate victims, as panicked residents ran into the smoldering streets, many clutching young children. He visited the quake scene Saturday afternoon and ordered his cabinet to oversee rescue efforts. U.S. Embassy spokesman Max Kwak told AP there were no reports of American casualties. Indonesia, sits along the Pacific Ocean's "Ring of Fire," a stretch of fault lines and volcanic activity bordering the Pacific Ocean. Officials said no tsunami followed the quake Saturday. A magnitude 9.1 earthquake on Dec. 26, 2004, under the sea off the coast of Indonesia's Sumatra Island triggered a tsunami that killed more than 131,000 people in Aceh province, and more than 100,000 others in nearly a dozen other countries.
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