Thousands Killed by Earthquake in Indonesia

BANTUL, Indonesia -- Thousands of exhausted and grieving survivors dug through their crumpled homes Sunday searching for clothes, food and valuables after a powerful earthquake hit central Indonesia, killing more than 3,800 people, according to command posts in affected areas.

The magnitude-6.3 quake struck early Saturday and injured thousands more in the heart of densely populated Java island, in the country's worst disaster since the 2004 tsunami. It also triggered fears that a nearby rumbling volcano would erupt and caused serious damage to the world-famous 9th-century Prambanan temple.

At least 4,332 people were killed in the quake, according to command post officials from the affected areas and a local government official. The social ministry said around 4,600 died, but numbers in one of the hardest-hit districts were disputed.

Another 200,000 people were left homeless, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent.

The disaster zone stretched across hundreds of square kilometers of mostly farming communities in Yogyakarta province. The worst devastation was in the town of Bantul, where more than 2,400 people were killed and 80 percent of homes were flattened.

"I have to start my life from zero again," said Poniran, whose 5-year-old daughter Ellie was killed in the quake.

Poniran dug up his still-breathing daughter from the rubble of her bedroom, but she died in a hospital awaiting treatment along with hundreds of others.

"Her last words were 'Daddy, Daddy,'" he said.

Tens of thousands of people spent the night Saturday sleeping in any open space available -- on streets, in cassava fields, even on the narrow paths between rice fields. Power and telephone service was out across much of the region, adding to the terror of aftershocks.

About 450 aftershocks had shaken the region as of midday local time Sunday, with the strongest measuring magnitude 5.2, said Handi, an official at the Indonesian Meteorology and Geophysics Agency who uses only one name.

Survivors searched the ruins of their homes on Sunday for anything still usable and complained that they had not received any aid.

"We're short of everything -- clothes, food, water, all are gone. We are poor people, but our lives still matter," said Budi Wiyana, 63, whose house was destroyed.

Doctors struggled to care for the injured, hundreds of whom were lying on plastic sheets, straw mats and even newspapers outside overcrowded hospitals, some hooked to intravenous drips dangling from trees. Relatives fanned victims in the heat in temporary shelters set up in the parking lot and corridors. A doctor said the hospital had received more than 2,000 patients.

Though some corpses were pulled from the rubble early Sunday, residents in villages visited by reporters said there were few people or bodies trapped beneath collapsed houses, mostly simple brick and wood structures.

But in Peni, a small village on Bantul's southern outskirts, 20 residents were not ready to give up. They found the bodies of a woman and her three children Saturday, and were still trying to find the family's father, Purwoko.

Most of the dead were buried in village graveyards within hours of the disaster, in line with Islamic tradition.

In Peni, villagers set up simple clinics to treat injuries, but were hampered by shortages of medicine and equipment. A group of women cooked catfish caught in a nearby pond for dozens of people huddled under a large tent.

The earthquake hit at around 6 a.m. local time Saturday, caving in tile roofs and sending walls crashing down. Survivors screamed as they ran from their homes, some clutching bloodied children and the elderly.

The quake was the latest in a series of disasters to hit Indonesia -- including the 2004 tsunami that ravaged Aceh province, terrorist attacks, a widening bird flu outbreak and the threat of eruption from nearby Mount Merapi.

The quake's epicenter was 80 kilometers south of Merapi, and activity increased soon after the temblor. A large burst spewed hot clouds and sent debris cascading some 3 1/2 kilometers down its western flank. No one was injured because nearby residents had already been evacuated.

Bambang Dwiyanto of the Indonesian Energy and Mineral Ministry could not say whether the quake caused the volcanic activity but warned that it could trigger a larger eruption.

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 volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin. It has the largest number of volcanoes in the world, 76.