Areas hit by quake receiving some aid

Indonesia toll at 5,000

volcano activity builds

May 30, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia --Significant amounts of aid began arriving yesterday in Bantul, the town south of this city that was hit the hardest by Saturday's earthquake, but a nearby volcano substantially increased its threatening activity.

For the third night in a row, residents in Bantul and in Klaten, another ravaged town, slept outside their houses, grouped around campfires and using debris for cover from the rain. Some strummed guitars; others, kneeling on mats, prayed for help.

Mount Merapi, a 9,800-foot volcano north of Yogyakarta, has been close to an eruption for nearly a month, but activity weakened in recent weeks. Volcanologists said yesterday that the powerful quake had destabilized a fragile dome at the mountain's peak. Collapse of the dome would set off a large eruption of lava, rocks and hot gas, they said.

Billowing clouds of gas vented from the mountain's crater yesterday, drifting more than two miles down its western slope toward the village of Magelang.

Subandriyo, director of the Merapi division of the Volcanology Center here, said the volcano released 150 gaseous clouds yesterday, compared with an average of 50 the week before.

South of Yogyakarta, the death toll from Saturday's earthquake rose to about 5,000, with more than 15,000 injured and 100,000 displaced, according to government figures released yesterday.

Puji Pujiono, the lead officer of the United Nations team in Bantul, said it was receiving no new reports of missing persons, a sign that the number of deaths might not increase much in the coming days.

Emergency teams who had been deployed in Yogyakarta for the expected eruption of Mount Merapi shifted resources to Bantul, where a command center for the rescue effort was established. A communications post there is monitoring the volcano's activity and keeping emergency workers informed of developments.

Activity at the command center in Bantul was high in the afternoon as government, military and international aid workers, forming human chains, unloaded rice, water and other supplies.

The Indonesian Finance Ministry told U.N. officials it would provide subsistence grants to survivors of the quake. The ministry also said it would provide grants to families, administered by local government, to help rebuild houses. It intends to complete a full action plan for rehabilitation in two weeks.

Electricity in Yogyakarta, a city of a half-million people, has been fully restored, and the airport, which was damaged during the quake, reopened yesterday to emergency and commercial traffic. Aid shipments had been diverted to nearby airports in Solo and Semarang, where the relief groups loaded supplies and personnel onto trucks and vans bound for Bantul.

The convoy of trucks caused heavy traffic along the road to Bantul, further delaying aid.

"There is a huge need here," said Pujiono, the U.N. official. "We are not lacking supplies, but they are being held up by a jammed distribution system."

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