eTN For weeks now inhabitants in the ancient city of Yogyakarta, in the densely populated heart of Java, had been looking north with fear, for Mt. Merapi had threatened to erupt any moment now. Emergency preparedness efforts had been meticulously set in place along threatened slopes, from emergency bunkers to evacuation sites, tents, clinics, foodstuff distribution, trucks, inspections, even to locations where to evacuate cattle to: all was ready for the eruption of Mount Merapi. But, man proposes and God disposes.
For, completely unexpected, disaster struck from the south, from the Indonesian Ocean floor. On Saturday morning, 27 May, at exactly 05.54 am local time, a tectonic earthquake measuring 5.9 (other sources mention 6.2) on the Richter Scale, rattled the area for almost one minute (other reports say five minutes) as the city was just awakening from sleep. Soon, in the bright morning sun, thousands of houses were seen reduced to rubble. People were running in panic screaming or crying in pain or stunned unable to move.
Then, throngs ran up streets, trying to flee to higher ground fearing a tsunami. For, as the sea level was seen rising, rumor of an oncoming tsunami had created even more panic. Motorbikes and cars filled roads to escape the city. But, up north towards the mountains, at the same moment, Mt. Merapi was coming to life again, spewing threatening smoke, blowing large clouds high into the air and throwing down rains of ash over towns and countryside. Had Merapi erupted, had it caused the quake?
Thankfully, however, soon the Geological Office assured that no tsunami was created by the quake, thus calming all. And, since the earthquake was tectonic, which was caused by the collision between the Indo-Australia plate and the Eurasia plate, the quake had no direct connection with the Merapi volcano. Volcanologists , however, warned that the powerful quake could disturb the lava dome sitting precariously atop the crater, which could collapse and avalanche down the slopes at any moment, causing another disaster.
And so, at the end of one day of exhausting rescue operations, more than three thousand people were counted dead and thousands more injured. All the hospitals in Yogyakarta and surroundings were completely overwhelmed and way over capacity, no longer able to handle the dead and wounded, many victims had fractured bones and more were bleeding profusely. Blood supply, medicines, bandages, had run out. In the evening, Yogyakarta Governor, Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, called on all hospitals on Java to help out, as victims were attended to lying on straw mats, plastic sheets or newspapers on hallway floors or in hospital driveways and gardens, with some drips hanging from trees.
Meanwhile, in Yogya’s southern suburb of Bantul, which is located closest - at a mere six kilometer- to the quake’s epicenter, the town was completely flattened, with no house left standing. For houses and buildings here are not built to withstand quakes. Along Yogya’s main street, Malioboro, tens of shophouses were cracked or roofs collapsed. The airport of Adisucipto was closed immediately, as its roof in the domestic terminal had collapsed onto the floor, electricity was down and computers broken. Parts of its runway had cracked and sunk. The last flight out of Yogyakarta was a Garuda Indonesia plane that took off minutes before the quake. Power lines had also fallen down in parts of the city and phone communications was difficult.
President Yudhoyono was quick to response. Eve before noon that fateful Saturday, the President and entourage of Ministers directly involved with disaster relief, had flown to the stricken city of Yogyakarta, a 45-minutes flight from the capital. Consoling the wounded and homeless, the President there and then decided to personally oversee disaster relief operations himself, staying in Yogyakarta for a number of days. He also immediately ordered the military to provide logistics and personnel, help with evacuation of the living and search for the dead and wounded from under the rubble of thousands of homes. Vice-President, Jusuf Kalla, meanwhile, was entrusted with coordination of relief operations in Jakarta. In a press conference, VP Jusuf Kalla informed that help had been pledged by a number of countries. Singapore will send US$ 50 million in medicines, tents, blankets and military medical personnel; China has pledged US$ 2 million, Canada US$ 1.8 million, Saudi Arabia US$5 million in medicines and logistics, The United States US$ 2.5 million, Japan Yen 100 million, Holland Euro 1 million, and the UNICEF 2,000 tents and 9,000 pieces of tarpaulin.
On Sunday, the second day after the deadly earthquake, the immediate problem became: how to distribute food, drinking water and clothing to the thousands of evacuees who lost all except the clothing on their bodies? Worst still, with a shortage of tents, many evacuees had to sit in the open air unprotected, when rain drenched the city.
Meantime, Yogyakarta’s economic life had come to a near a standstill as people tried to recover from the shock, assemble their wits and whatever may be left of their scarce belongings among the ruins that was once their home. For, more than 200,000 are reported to have lost their homes and belongings with nowhere to go and nothing to eat. And so, by the end of the second day, on Sunday, the body count mounted to over 4, 000 dead. The official count is 4,661 dead. But, Coordinating Minister for Welfare, Aburizal Bakrie, expects the number to reach closer to 5,000.
Indonesian Geological experts said that the earthquake that struck Yogyakarta had a strength of 6.2 MMI (Modified Mercally Intensity) or equal to 5.9 on the Richter scale. Its epicenter was located some 38 km. south west of the city of Yogyakarta, close to shore, at a depth of 33 km below the surface, with tremors moving south-west to north-east.
Of the historic sites surrounding Yogyakarta, the 9th. century Buddhist temple Borobudur was so far reported unscathed, although there are fears that its foundation and structure may have been affected. Nonetheless, the 9th century Prambanan Hindu temple, meaning “The Slender Maiden”, due north east of Yogyakarta in the district of Klaten has been damaged, with sections of stones of the main Siva temple part having fallen off. But, worst damage was suffered by the adjacent temple dedicated to the Lord Brahma. The Prambanan temple is said to have been completed in the year 856 AD. The nearby 9th. century Buddhist temples of Sewu and Plaosan are reported to have also suffered damage.
In the city of Yogyakarta itself, the Justice Pavilion in the Keraton or Palace of the Sultan, known as the “Traju Mas” had collapsed. Next to the Keraton, parts of the newly renovated “Taman Sari” water palace has also been badly damaged.
The Keraton of Yogyakarta was designed and built by Yogya’s founder, Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono I, in stages between 1756 and 1790. Designed along the ancient Hindu-Javanese concept of the cosmos, the Keraton or Palace faces North-South. To the north it faces Mount Merapi, and to its South the Indian, or Indonesian ocean. Celebrations move north, while funeral processions pass through the southern gates. The wild Indonesian ocean is believed to be the abode of the “Queen of the South Seas” otherwise known as “Ni Loro Kidul”, believed to be the Consort of the Sultans.