Aid begins arriving in Indonesian quake zone, as death toll tops 5,100

Officials: relief supplies remain inadequate: "How can I distribute 40 kilograms of rice to 1,200 people?"

earthquake 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
earthquake 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Emergency aid began arriving Monday in areas devastated by a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in Indonesia, but officials said supplies were not being delivered fast enough to victims who begged for help on roads lined with crumpled buildings. The government's Social Affairs Ministry raised the official death toll by about 800 to 5,137, saying it included previously uncounted bodies buried in mass graves immediately after the quake. The first aid plane chartered by the UN's children agency arrived in the city of Solo, about three hours from the hardest-hit district of Bantul on Java island. It was loaded with water, tents, stoves and cooking sets. On Sunday, three UN trucks brought high-energy biscuits to survivors and two Singapore military cargo planes arrived with doctors and medical supplies. But officials said relief supplies remained inadequate. "We have received food and medicine from the government but it's not enough," said Suparno, a neighborhood official in Bantul who goes by one name, like many Indonesians. "How can I distribute 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of rice to 1,200 people?" Hundreds of villagers lined main roads in the disaster zone, holding out donation boxes. They explained that any money collected would be used communally to buy rice, oil and candles. "We need help. Anything at all," one sign read. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono acknowledged a "lack of coordination" in aid distribution when he visited refugees Monday and called for government officials to be "more agile." "I saw in many areas that there are many things that need to be speeded up," he said. Yudhoyono - criticized by some as being hesitant to act in the past - spent the first night after Saturday's quake sleeping in a tent along with survivors and moved his office to the nearby city of Yogyakarta to supervise relief operations. The government said the quake left an estimated 200,000 people homeless, most of whom are now living in improvised shacks close to their former homes or in shelters erected in rice fields. Hospitals overflowed with bloodied survivors. Activity at nearby Mount Merapi has intensified threefold since the quake, with lava and hot clouds avalanching 3 kilometers (2 1/2 miles) down the volcano's slopes Monday, said Indonesian volcanologist Subandriyo. It was not clear if the two events were related. The area affected by the quake stretches across hundreds of square kilometers (square miles) of mostly farming communities to the south of the ancient city of Yogyakarta. Countries across Asia and the world have pledged tens of millions of dollars, tons of supplies and hundreds of personnel. Indonesia's government promised on Monday to supply 12 kilograms (26 pounds) of rice and 90,000 rupiah (US$9.60; €7.50) per month to each victim, plus money to buy clothes and kitchen utensils. It also pledged to provide 30 million rupiah (US$3,200; €2,500) for rebuilding badly damaged houses and 10 million rupiah (US$1,075; €840) for slightly damaged ones. It said it hoped foreign aid would account for 50 percent of the rehabilitation costs, estimated at 1 trillion to 1.5 trillion rupiah (US$108 million to US$161 million; €84 million to €126 million). Some villagers had received clothing and food on Monday, but most were still fending for themselves. "All our valuables are gone," said Hardadi, as she cooked breakfast for three families living under a shelter made from fertilizer sacks. "But at least we managed to get the children out alive." Many survivors worked together to clear the rubble and salvage building materials to build temporary shelters and health centers. One woman was collecting pieces of broken glass from a path - a hazard given that so many survivors are without shoes. "The people here have the spirit to rebuild their lives," said Prapto Warsito, a village chief. "They have a long tradition of working and living together." In one village, women brought their children to a well inside a damaged house, and threw buckets of water over them as they stood on pieces of a broken table. "All we need now is a comb," joked one woman, who appeared in good spirits despite losing her father and home to the quake. Electricity and water supplies were still down in much of the region on Monday. Torrential rains have fallen at least twice since the disaster, adding to the misery of survivors. The quake was the fourth destructive temblor to hit Indonesia in the last 17 months, including the one that spawned the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami that killed 230,000 people across Asia, most of them on this Indian Ocean archipelago. The country also is battling the bird flu crisis, a spate of terror attacks by al-Qaida-linked Islamic militants and the threat of eruption from Mount Merapi, just north of the quake zone. Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanos and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin. It has 76 volcanos, the largest number in the world.