Deadly quake strikes Java

At least 3,700 reported dead


BANTUL, Indonesia -- At least 3,700 people were killed and thousands more were injured yesterday in a powerful earthquake that struck densely populated central Java island and reduced thousands of homes to rubble. When the earth began trembling at dawn, panicked Indonesians scrambled from their beds "like being chased by thunder."

The magnitude-6.3 offshore quake flattened buildings, damaged bridges and roads, and knocked out electricity for miles inland. Rescuers searched for survivors and hospitals overflowed with the injured. The death toll was expected to rise.

Even though the stricken area is more than 10 miles from the sea, the quake caused widespread panic among residents who feared the region would be hit by a tsunami like the one that struck the northern province of Aceh in 2004, killing more than 200,000 people.

Thousands of people slept in rice fields and along roads last night, some because their homes had been destroyed, others for fear of another quake. Aid officials said they were attempting to rush tents, tarps and other supplies to as many as 200,000 survivors.

In Bantul, the hardest-hit town, at least 2,093 people were killed. Many of the buildings were reduced to mounds of bricks; others simply pancaked.

So much debris had fallen that streets were blocked in the worst-hit neighborhoods. Blackouts forced searchers to abandon their efforts for the night.

In the ancient city of Yogyakarta just north of Bantul, more than 100 people died and the airport was closed because of damage to the runway, hampering the delivery of aid. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said the greatest need was for antibiotics and other medicine to treat the injured.

Rescue officials put the death toll at more than 3,700.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono arrived yesterday afternoon with a group of Cabinet ministers to oversee the relief operation. He ordered the army to help evacuate survivors and assured residents that there would be no tsunami.

The Associated Press reported that the United States responded with an emergency allocation of $2.5 million for assistance to victims.

"Through financial and material support, the United States is assisting with recovery efforts in coordination with Indonesian authorities, and we stand prepared to provide additional assistance as needed," President Bush said in a statement released late yesterday. The administration initially announced $500,000 in assistance but increased the figure late yesterday, according to the AP.

In Yogyakarta, Dr. Sardjito General Hospital was filled with victims, many of whom were being treated in the facility's corridors and parking lot. The injured continued to arrive in trucks and vans more than 12 hours after the quake.

Jayadi, 70, who goes by one name, suffered two broken legs and cuts on his hands when his house in Bantul collapsed around him. Still wearing a bloodstained shirt, he was lying on a plastic sheet in the hospital parking lot.

"I was sleeping when the earthquake hit," he said. "I was on my bed, and rubble from the house was everywhere. Our house was flattened. All the houses in the neighborhood were flattened."

In the Jetis neighborhood of Bantul, where most of the houses were destroyed or damaged, residents camped overnight in a rice field.

Erawati, 30, whose roof collapsed in the quake, built a shelter with neighbors using a plastic sheet. During the night, the rain poured, turning the field muddy and soaking her and her children, ages 7 and 3.

After dawn today, many residents went back to their ruined homes to salvage clothes, gas stoves and pots for cooking. Some took wood from the collapsed buildings and made cooking fires by the side of the road.

Yogyakarta, one of the country's oldest cities and a popular tourist destination, is noted for its two historic religious monuments, Borobudur, a Buddhist temple, and Prambanan, a Hindu temple. Initial reports indicated that Prambanan had suffered damage.

The city also is close to Indonesia's most active volcano, Merapi, which has been spewing lava, steam and ash for weeks. It was unclear whether the quake and the volcanic activity were connected. Thousands of villagers evacuated their homes on the mountain this month, but many had chosen to return.

Indonesia is part of the Ring of Fire, the zone of seismic and volcanic activity that roughly surrounds the Pacific Ocean. It includes California and Japan, among other quake-prone areas.

Yesterday's temblor was the third major quake to strike Indonesia in 17 months. On Dec. 26, 2004, a magnitude 9 quake struck off the northern coast of Sumatra island, triggering a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that wiped out half the city of Banda Aceh. The following March, a magnitude 8.7 offshore quake shook the neighboring island of Nias, killing more than 600.

Supplies collected for those calamities were being moved from warehouses in Jakarta and Medan to the scene of the new disaster.

Yesterday's quake hit Java, Indonesia's main island, at 5:54 a.m. Survivors said the shaking lasted for about a minute and grew in intensity.

"It was like being chased by thunder," said Rina Neriwati, 48, who works at a hotel in Yogyakarta. "Under my feet, I felt the tremble of the earthquake. I was so afraid."

Dinda Jouhana in Bantil and Richard C. Paddock in Jakarta write for the Los Angeles Times.

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