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Indonesia quake toll shoots past 4600

Bantul, Indonesia, May 28 (Reuters): Rescue workers dug desperately for survivors today and hospitals struggled to cope with the thousands of injured, a day after an earthquake killed more than 4,600 people on Indonesia’s Java island.

Up to 20,000 had been injured and more than 100,000 have been left homeless, Unicef (the UN Children’s Fund) spokesman John Budd said, but he mentioned that the figures were still sketchy.

“Nobody really knows for sure simply because a lot of people were actually evacuated out... in order to be treated and a lot of people who are injured have been turned away,” Budd said.

Trucks full of volunteers from Indonesian political parties and Islamic groups, as well as military vehicles carrying soldiers, headed south from the ancient royal city of Yogyakarta to Bantul, hardest hit by the quake, to help in the effort.

“Kopassus (special forces troops) and Indonesian Red Cross volunteers are trying to comb through rubble because thousands of houses are damaged and people may still be trapped beneath them,” Ghozali Situmorang, director general of aid management for the national social department, told Yogyakarta radio.

Medical supplies and body bags were arriving at the airport of Yogyakarta, about 25 km from the Indian Ocean coast where yesterday’s 6.3 magnitude quake was centred just offshore.

A volcanologist said the quake had heightened volcanic activity at nearby Mount Merapi, a volcano experts believe may be about to erupt. Merapi has been rumbling for weeks and sporadically emitting lava and highly toxic gas.

The official death toll has jumped to 4,611, said the social affairs ministry’s disaster task force.

In the Bantul area, which accounted for more than 2,000 of the deaths and where most buildings were flattened, makeshift plastic tents dotted the roads.

In the afternoon heat Sugiyo picked through the remnants of his brick home. He had been trapped with his family before being rescued by other village residents. His mother was killed.

“I found my motorcycle but it was destroyed, then I found the cupboard but it was broken too,” said Sugiyo.

But his face lit up as he spotted a pink box containing diapers and baby clothes. “This is for my 2-year-old daughter,” he said holding the box tightly in his arms.

Throughout the disaster-struck region, authorities struggled to deliver aid.

“The problem now is that we are still short of tents, many people are still living on the streets or open areas,” said Suseno, a field officer of the Yogyakarta disaster task force.

Clean water was another problem.In Bantul all 12 water distribution systems had been either knocked out completely or were not working properly, Unicef’s Budd said.

Yesterday’s dawn quake struck while many were still in bed. Houses in the area tended to be poorly constructed, their wooden roofs collapsing on occupants when the quake shook.

Hospitals struggled to cope. Hundreds of people crammed the corridors and grounds of Yogyakarta’s Bethesda hospital.

“There’s a lot of severe injuries. It was definitely overwhelmed,” said hospital volunteer Andrew Jeremijenko.

“I’ve been to the other hospitals. They’re all overwhelmed. There are not enough nurses or doctors to cope with the load.”

Yesterday’s quake was the third major tremor to hit Indonesia in 18 months. The worst, the December 26, 2004, quake and its resulting tsunami, left some 170,000 people dead or missing around Aceh. Indonesia sits on the Asia-Pacific’s so-called “Ring of Fire”, marked by heavy volcanic and tectonic activity.

Yesterday morning, a quake measuring 6.7 in magnitude struck the South Pacific island nation of Tonga and the New Britain region of Papua New Guinea was shaken by a 6.2 magnitude quake, the US Geological Survey said.

The international community has rallied to help Ind-onesia, offering medical rel- ief teams and emergency supplies.

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