Agam's Gecko
Sunday, May 28, 2006
A father comforts his son during a mass funeral for earthquake victims in Bantul, near Yogyakarta.


our humble correspondent has been feeling pretty distressed since yesterday morning. Just before 6 am local time, a strong earthquake (magnitude 6.3 according to USGS) struck Central Java near the city of Yogyakarta. The epicentre was located near the southern coast of Java, only 25 km. from the royal city. At the time of this writing the quake has taken over 3,500 lives, a number which will certainly increase as relief efforts continue. Worst hit was the town of Bantul, about midway between Yogyakarta and the coast, where more than 2,000 are already known to have died.

To put this into perspective, less than 24 hours after the event, the known death toll is about triple that of Hurricane Katrina. Watching coverage yesterday on MetroTV brought back bitter memories of Boxing Day 2004 -- the mournful music accompanying heart wrenching scenes of childrens' bodies laid out, wrapped in sarongs in preparation for burial. Local hospitals were obviously overwhelmed, as crowds of people waited outside for their chance to get some medical attention, while inside the wards were packed with the more seriously injured, often receiving their treatment right on the floor due to lack of sufficient beds. The scenes also brought to mind the heroic efforts in Bali's hospitals last year after the terrorist bombings. There are just never enough beds for people when you really need them.

Some of my Aceh family in Tapaktuan also have family in Yogya, but I have no news so far. All I know is that they live not far from the kraton (palace), and I hear that some people were killed in the Taman Sari -- an old stone ruin which was a royal "water park" -- in the same part of town. Yogya is a wonderful little city with many great historical sites, and served as the national capital during the independence struggle. The city and its immediate surrounding region has a special status in recognition of this history, and the hereditary ruler Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X (that's "tenth," not a Malcolm X thing, heh) is the governor of the special district. He's a pretty cool guy, and well loved by his people. I saw him on TV last night with Surya Paloh (owner of Media Indonesia and MetroTV) giving leadership to the relief efforts. Mr. Paloh is an Acehnese who inspired many with his own relief efforts during the tsunami disaster.

Most of my friends in Central Java are in the city of Solo (Surakarta), which was damaged in the quake but as far as I know, no one was killed. I'll be trying to make some phone calls later today. The great Buddhist monument Borobodur, located around 40 km northwest of Yogyakarta is reported not to have sustained damage, but the ancient Hindu complex at Prambanan, located on the eastern fringe of Yogya, apparently suffered damage to the Brahma Temple (there are about half a dozen temples in the complex).

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is in the Yogyakarta area tonight, comforting the disaster victims. His spokesman said yesterday that he would relocate his working office to Yogya for the forseeable future, in order to ensure that relief efforts get full attention. It was reported that he would spend the night in refugee quarters.

Here is a photo album with the latest images from this horrible day. Meanwhile, 40 km or so in the opposite direction, Mount Merapi keeps on rumbling, and smoking, and making its presence felt. That's the cataclysm everyone had been bracing for over the past few weeks. Here's the layout on Google Maps -- hey, Merapi is smoking in that picture too. Well, it was doing it the last time I visited Borobudur, but this picture should be more recent. Towns are not marked on it for some reason, but Yogya is the reddish area on a line between Merapi and the quake location mark (closer to the latter). Solo is roughly midway between Merapi and the other mountain you see on the east side of the picture (a popular cool spot for recreation for Solo people, called Tawangmangu).

[The words at the top of the post mean "we express our sorrow and mourn for the victims of the Central Java earthquake." Also, Yogyakarta is often spelled Jogjakarta -- more commonly written as the former, although it's pronounced like the latter -- and most people simply call it "Jogja."]

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