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At Least 443 Killed in Indonesian Earthquake

Magnitude 6.2 temblor hits nears Yogyakarta. Thousands, fearing a tsunami, flee the city.

May 27, 2006|From Times Wire Services

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia — A powerful earthquake flattened buildings in central Indonesia early today, killing at least 443 people and overwhelming hospitals with hundreds of injured, officials said.

The 6.2-magnitude quake struck 15 miles southwest of Yogyakarta at 5:54 a.m., when many people were asleep. It caused damage and casualties there and in the nearby cities of Solo and Bantul, officials said.

Panicked residents ran into the streets, some clutching young children or the bodies of the wounded.

Eight hours after the quake struck, the Indonesian Red Cross said at least 443 were dead and nearly 2,800 injured.

Those numbers were predicted to rise. More injured and dead were still arriving at hospitals, according to morgue officials and the privately run Elshinta radio.

Witnesses said many houses collapsed, along with government and office buildings, and most of the dead appeared to have head and other injuries from falling rubble.

"There so many casualties. Houses ... are flattened. Many people still need to be evacuated," said Kusmarwanto of Bantul Muhammadiyah Hospital, the closest to the epicenter.

"We are overwhelmed with bodies," said Subandi, a morgue official at Bethesda Hospital in Yogyakarta.

"Most of them have wounds on their heads. The flow is not going down. The numbers are going to escalate," he said.

A health official at nearby Dr. Sardjito General Hospital said some people were taking relatives' bodies home before they could be tallied.

"We have hundreds of injured people, our emergency care unit is overwhelmed," said Heru Nugroho, adding that some of the wounded were being attended to in the parking lot.

Police said electricity and communications across Yogyakarta were knocked out.

The quake cracked the runway at Yogyakarta's airport, closing it until at least Sunday, Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa said.

Television showed damaged hotels and government buildings. "It felt really powerful, and the whole building shook," a receptionist at a hotel said. "Everyone ran from their rooms."

Yogyakarta's royal palaces and the nearby 9th century Borobudur temple complex are prime attractions for domestic and foreign tourists, and many foreigners study the at schools in the city that offer intensive language courses.

Inaccurate rumors of an impending tsunami sent thousands of people fleeing to higher ground in cars and on motorbikes. The city is about 20 miles from the sea, and roads to the coast were cracked.

The quake also appeared to have triggered increased activity in the region's Merapi volcano, which has been spewing clouds of hot ash, gas and lava for weeks, a scientist said.

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