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Medical Care, Shelter Priorities for Quake Victims

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inkseep, good morning.

It's a measure of the devastation from the 2004 tsunami that this earthquake is considered minor by comparison, and only by comparison. Indonesian authorities say several thousand people were killed by a weekend earthquake in the island of Java. More than 100,000 people are homeless. They spent last night in makeshift shelters.

NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from the Indonesian town of Yogyakarta.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN reporting:

The corridors of Yogyakarta's Sardjito Hospital are still overflowing with the injured, many of them hooked up to intravenous drips tacked into the wall above their heads.

But the chief of the hospital's emergency effort, Dr. Hendro Watatmos(ph), says the worst appears to be over and the number of new patients has dropped sharply. On Saturday, nearly 2,000 injured arrived here, far too many for the hospital to handle. Many retreated in the yard outside. Today, Watatmos says the number of new admissions has dropped to fewer than 200, though beds are still in short supply.

Dr. HENDRO WATATMOS (Chief of Emergency Effort, Sardjito Hospital, Yogyakarta): Not enough for all the patients. Some of them still stay in the corridor, but it's better than yesterday.

SULLIVAN: When they were outside.

Dr. WATATMOS: Yeah.

SULLIVAN: Charlie Higgins, the United Nations relief coordinator on the ground here, says the number one priority remains medical care, especially for those in the worst affected areas just south of here.

Mr. CHARLIE HIGGINS (Relief Coordinator, United Nations): Well, the ones that have been brought up and referred to hospitals in Yogyakarta and beyond, they're getting the medical attention they need. It's the ones still down on the ground that may still need the assistance. They need to either go to them or they need to be brought out. We're going to try to do both, basically.

(Soundbite of sirens)

SULLIVAN: A steady stream of trucks, military vehicles and cars is now choking the main road, leading to the hardest hit towns and villages south of the city. An equally steady stream of vehicles, packed high with survivors' salvaged possessions, heads in the other direction.

Some survivors have complained the government has responded too slowly. The U.N.'s Higgins says the government has done quite well under the circumstances, in part, he says, because of work done already to deal with another potential disaster, the eruption of nearby Mt. Merapi, which has been threatening to blow for more than a month.

Mr. HIGGINS: They had a contingency plan in place, for the volcano that was - that hasn't been swung into action because they want to keep that in case the volcano does require it. They've been able to use some of that capacity and certainly some of the managerial assets they had on the ground to respond to this earthquake.

SULLIVAN: The United Nations is using some of its assets from the recovery efforts in the tsunami devastated province of Aceh to help with this latest disaster. And while medical care is the most pressing concern, adequate shelter is also in short supply. Some tents have begun trickling in, but not nearly enough for all those in need.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Yogyakarta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.