Christian Aid Workers Rush To Indonesia As Quake Kills Nearly 5,000

Sunday, May 28, 2006

YOGYAKARTA/JAKARTA (BosNewsLife) -- Christian aid workers rushed to the heartland of Indonesia's main island of Java Saturday, May 27, hours after a dawn earthquake killed nearly 5,000 people, and injured and displaced many thousands.

Members of Action of Churches Together, a Protestant and Orthodox-based international ecumenical coalition, and Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic humanitarian agency, were among those providing aid, said Ekklesia, a UK-based Christian think-tank with close contacts with these groups.

The quake, measuring at a magnitude of 6.2 on the Richter scale, struck near the city of Yogyakarta, some 250 miles (400 kilometers) east of the capital Jakarta. Bantul town, about 25 km (15 miles) south of Yogyakarta city, was hit hardest. Officials said most people died in the Bantul region.

It was expected to put additional pressure on Java's Christian minority which has complained of persecution. In previous disasters, including a tsunami and a major Southeast Asian earth quake, some advocacy organizations complained that Christian minorities in the region were often receiving less aid than other religious groups.


However Christian aid workers suggested they will extend support to all people, regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation at a time when eyewitnesses spoke of "Armageddon" on Java, where hotels and buildings in the area collapsed. Women and clinching to their children were among the dead discovered beneath the rubble.

"Oh my god, where is the doctor, where is the doctor?" one old man with a bruised face was heard crying. Christian aid workers tried to reach him and other injured people.

"Local churches and church buildings are already housing affected people and we have staff from our Caritas in Indonesia as well as from Caritas members of Netherlands, Germany and USA in the area," said Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Duncan MacLaren in a published statement.

Overshadowing rescue efforts were reports that roads and bridges were damaged, making it difficult to transport injured people. Hospitals were overwhelmed. Most phone lines were down and electricity had not been restored late Saturday, May 27, in several areas in and around Yogyakarta.


The quake also cracked the runway in Yogyakarta's airport and was only expected to resume operations later Sunday, May 28. The earthquake's epicenter was close to Mount Merapi, which has been rumbling for weeks. There was no danger of a tsunami, though rumors of one sent thousands of panicked stricken people fleeing to higher ground, television footage showed.

"We heard there is water," some people shouted. Homeless and injured villagers received support from Christian hospitals and nurses. "The seven Catholic hospitals in the Province have opened their doors and we are preparing to help as much as we can," said MacLaren.

Teams of doctors and nurses from the Catholic hospitals were reportedly visiting the destroyed villages in five affected regions and providing medical assistance to the injured and traumatized. Action by Churches Together told Ekklesia that it was immediately in contact with local staff and with local partners.


Church World Service (CWS), the US equivalent of the UK’s Christian Aid, along with other ACT members reportedly sent representatives to the affected areas. CWS is assessing needs and preparing to distribute emergency relief supplies.

Caritas agencies had pre-positioned resources in Central Java, in the event of the displacement of people living in the surrounds of the erupting volcano of Mount Merapi. "The assessment of needs by Caritas following the Yogyakarta earthquake is in progress and will be coordinated with the local regional authorities," the agency said in a statement.

The epicenter of the quake, which struck just before 6 am local time (2200 UTC), was offshore, but many near the coast feared it would be followed by a tsunami and fled for higher ground, reporters said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited Bantul and Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari said medical teams had been sent to the hardest-hit areas, Reuters news agency reported. The European Union, the United States, Japan and UNICEF were among those to offer immediate aid. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from Indonesia).

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