Relatives Mourn Indonesian Earthquake Victims

Wednesday, March 7th 2007, 5:54 am
By: News On 6

SOLOK, Indonesia (AP) _ Relatives of those killed in a powerful earthquake sobbed and threw rose petals on graves Wednesday, while others began clearing rubble from their crumpled homes.

At least 52 people were killed and hundreds injured in Tuesday's quake, the latest in a string of natural disasters to hit the nation.

``My heart is crushed,'' said Yera Wesi, who lost her daughter Regia Putri. The 5-year-old ran out of her preschool when the ground began shaking violently. She made it to the playground, but was smashed beyond recognition when a slab of concrete rained down from the building next door.

``She was my only daughter,'' Wesi said weakly while visiting the place where her daughter died. She then returned home, where her husband wept near a small mound of fresh dirt sprinkled with flowers.

The 6.3 magnitude quake that struck Sumatra island left at least 52 dead, said Cabinet Secretary Sudi Silalahi, lowering the death toll by nearly 20 on Wednesday. He said some victims had been counted twice. Officials said some 250 people were injured.

The temblor was felt as far away as neighboring Malaysia and Singapore, where some tall buildings were evacuated. Two hours later, a 6.1 aftershock rattled the region.

In Solok, a bustling town close to the epicenter, three members of one family were burned alive when their collapsed home burst into flames, said police spokesman Supriadi, who like many Indonesians uses only one name. Military and work crews scrambled to clean up the charred remains of the house.

Another woman, Jaini, 71, died early Wednesday after being trapped inside her kitchen when the walls caved in. Her son-in-law dug her out of the rubble, but she refused to go to the hospital saying it was ``no use,'' said her daughter, Kento.

The damage was visible in patches of town and varied greatly. Some houses were flattened with only tin rooms left sitting atop the ground, while others had only slight cracks in walls or porches. Many homes appeared to have escaped damage completely, but jittery residents were not taking any chances.

Many lounged on straw mats under trees and cooked under plastic canopies in yards. They spent Tuesday night outside wrapped in blankets, hovering beside lanterns and fires to escape the cool mountain air.

Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, is prone to seismic upheaval because of its location on the so-called Pacific ``Ring of Fire,'' an arc of volcanos and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

It was hardest hit by the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed 160,000 people on Sumatra's northern tip alone. Since then, two other deadly quakes have occurred, as well as landslides, floods and volcanic eruptions.

Dozens of buildings were destroyed and hundreds others damaged in the latest quake, according to local police chief Lt. Col. Budi Sarwono.

Heavy machinery was used to knock down some buildings still standing after the quake, but too damaged to be salvaged. Back hoes and dump trucks moved mounds of dirt and broken concrete, but many houses remained sideways or perched precariously on cracked support beams.

Patients poured into hospitals, many with broken bones and cuts, but most were treated outside because of fears more quakes would follow.

A military hospital was deserted, and patients were treated across the street under tents in a soccer field. They were given oxygen and intravenous drips, and many had fresh bandages covering their heads.

``I tell them to keep their spirit alive,'' said Dr. Rocky Hendrawan, who was racing among the cots to check on patients.