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Indonesia races to cope with quake survivors

by Elisia Yeo
Bantul, Indonesia (AFP) May 29, 2006
Indonesia raced to cope with thousands of injured and homeless earthquake survivors Monday as the United Nations vowed help would come faster than after the 2004 Asian tsunami.

As the death toll from Saturday's powerful quake jumped to more than 5,100 people, relief officials urged nations to rush in badly needed field hospitals, medicines, tents and supplies.

UN emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland, who also helped oversee the tsunami relief in Indonesia's Aceh province, said the effort should be quicker in reaching quake victims and rebuilding on the country's main Java island.

"This time I think it's going to be easier because Java is not as remote as Aceh," he told CNN.

"We are now able to help in a matter of hours after an earthquake strikes," Egeland said. "We are better coordinated now than ever before."

But even as rescue teams and aid workers fanned out across the quake zone, the injured were spilling out of hospitals, power cuts hampered rescue work and fresh rains at night added to the misery for the roughly 200,000 homeless.

Throughout the day desperate victims stood along the sides of roads, holding up pails and boxes to beg for money and waving signs asking for mercy. Many had written on their T-shirts: "Help Me."

Some people expressed anger that relief was not coming more quickly.

"The government does not have any willingness to help," said Hariyantini, a housewife living in a village near the city of Yogyakarta, the main city in the zone that bore the brunt of the 6.3-magnitude quake.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who visited survivors, acknowledged aid was slow to arrive.

"We have to improve coordination, both between the government and the regions, from one region and another, and coordination with foreign parties and non-governmental organisations," he said.

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 the spread of disease.

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.

"Waste management in the hospitals is now critical. There is human waste everywhere. The situation is quite serious," said UNICEF spokesman John Budd.

In Geneva the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which is run by Egeland, oversaw a meeting of aid agencies to help organise the international response.

"The most urgent needs to be delivered within three days are three field hospitals, with a capacity of 100 beds each, medical supplies mostly for orthopaedic treatment, generators, tents and shelter items," OCHA spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told AFP.

She said the Red Cross was ready to deliver 10,000 tents. But "more will be needed," she warned.

The orthopaedic supplies are needed to cope with the many broken bones suffered in the quake, which reduced many houses to rubble. Hopes faded of finding anyone still alive in the wreckage.

The government declared a three-month state of emergency in the zone, where wooden beams from collapsed dwellings stuck up like toothpicks, and broken ceiling tiles and bricks littered the ground.

The social affairs ministry raised the death toll to at least 5,136.

Survivors -- too terrified to return home as hundreds of aftershocks rattled the region -- hung out washing on lines strung between trees, or spread what clothing they had left on blue tarpaulins they used for shelter.

Adding to their fear, Mount Merapi -- a volcano north of the quake's epicentre -- became increasingly active Monday, belching clouds of hot gas and ash as lava trails ran down its slopes.

Vice President Yusuf Kalla said the government had allocated 75 billion rupiah (eight million dollars) for emergency aid, and the relief effort got a much-needed boost as Yogyakarta's damaged airport was reopened.

More international rescuers landed in the region, including a 20-strong search and rescue team from Taiwan and an 87-member Malaysian rescue team.

Medical teams from around the world began flying into Java, with Australia and Japan sending doctors and nurses in addition to large cash donations.

Japan also said it would send troops to help assist with relief.

Pakistan, which is still coping with the aftermath of a devastating quake last October that killed 73,000 people, sent a special flight laden with tents, blankets, medicines and food.

The quake was Indonesia's third major disaster in 18 months, following the tsunami that killed 168,000 in Sumatra and another quake that killed more than 600 people in Nias last year.

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Hospitals, tents must be raced to Indonesia quake victims
Geneva (AFP) May 29, 2006
UN agencies, anxious to show their efficiency after criticism of the 2004 tsunami aid operation, called Monday for field hospitals, medicines and tents to be rushed to Indonesia's earthquake victims within three days.

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