Relief workers arrive in Indonesian quake zone, begin food aid


YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia — Disaster relief workers arrived May 29 in Indonesia's central island of Java and immediately began assessing ways to aid survivors of the May 27 earthquake that killed more than 5,600 people.

Thousands more are injured and as many as 200,000 are thought to be homeless. Area families have been forced to sleep out in the open, in streets, fields, and narrow rice paddies. Even some whose houses are still standing have remained outside for fear of another serious earthquake. Several hundred aftershocks have kept local residents uneasy since the 6.3 magnitude earthquake.

World Vision began to distribute its first shipment of emergency supplies Monday, May 29 to several hundred villagers in Bantul, the district hardest hit by the earthquake. Items included nearly 400 tarps for shelter, several hundred blankets and clothing items, and dozens of temporary beds.

"The villagers greatly appreciated the aid because it was the first help they had received so far," said World Vision Relief Officer Iwan Raharja, who organized the distribution.

World Vision has already dispatched additional relief goods to reach another 1,500 families in Bantul over the next few days. Items will include hygiene kits, cooking supplies, and hundreds more tarps and temporary beds.

"Conditions are most desperate in the rural villages," reports World Vision staff doctor Ronald Gunawan, who toured Bantul district this morning. "Here, 80 to 90 percent of homes and building have been destroyed."

Gunawan also assessed the medical needs in Bantul city, visiting several community health centers and the main public hospital. "1200 patients have arrived at this hospital, which has capacity for only 200," he said. "The injured are being treated in the parking lot and on the ground outside."

The Southern Baptist relief specialists are using an initial $50,000 in Southern Baptist aid to provide food to outlying areas neglected by larger aid groups. Additional funds likely will be requested in the coming days.

"We'll be determining in the next few days what we're going to be doing," a Southern Baptist worker said. "The United Nations, the U.S. government, the European Union and other groups are short-termers, but we're trying to determine what Southern Baptists need to be doing for the long term in this."

"Too many outside organizations trying to respond simultaneously can often hinder more than help in a situation like this one," the Southern Baptist worker noted. "We're considering the timing and the actual need that will remain after the first responders have left the scene."

Buckled roads, power outages and damage to the airport in the regional center of Yogyakarta slowed initial relief efforts. Relief workers and major aid shipments began to reach the city and outlying towns as the airport reopened and travel conditions improved May 29. Emergency shelters also began to open that day.

However, Mount Merapi, a towering volcano north of Yogyakarta, continued to threaten eruption. The quake destabilized the mountain's dome, according to Indonesian volcanologists. If the dome collapses, a large eruption likely will follow. People living near the volcano began evacuating as gas and smoke clouds rose into the sky.

Southern Baptist volunteers continue to work in Indonesia's northern Sumatra region, helping survivors of the massive 2004 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 170,000 people in Indonesia alone. Southern Baptists have contributed more than $16 million to tsunami aid and reconstruction work in southern Asia since that disaster.

Other groups including Lutheran World Relief (LWR) announced it will commit an initial $25,000 to relief efforts in Indonesia. The funding will be channeled through the global aid alliance Action by Churches Together (ACT), of which LWR is a member, to ACT member agencies on the ground in Indonesia. Lutheran World Relief's country representative in Indonesia, Elhadi Abdalla, is currently in Yogyakarta, the hardest-hit area, and has been in coordinating meetings with Government of Indonesia officials and with other relief agencies.

What You Can Do

Donate to relief agencies, providing urgently needed emergency supplies to those who need it most in Indonesia as well as other emergency situations around the world.

•   World Vision's Disaster Response Fund

•   Lutheran World Relief (LWR)

Please pray for Indonesian families devastated by the quake.

Pray for disaster relief workers as they assess ways to aid survivors, and that God would provide wisdom as they make decisions and as they seek to remain physically safe.

BP news and wire reports were used in this story.