VIDEO - A powerful earthquake flattened buildings in central Indonesia early Saturday, killing at least 3,505 people and injuring thousands more in the country's worst disaster since the 2004 tsunami.
The magnitude 6.2 quake struck at 5:54 a.m. near the ancient city of Yogyakarta as most people were sleeping, causing death and damage in many nearby towns.
Houses, hotels and government buildings collapsed, sending hysterical survivors running through the streets. Many roads and bridges were destroyed, hindering efforts to get taxis and pickup trucks filled with wounded to hospitals, already overflowing with patients.
Some villagers started digging mass graves.
"I couldn't help my wife," Said Subarjo, 70, sobbing as he sat beside her body. "I was trying to rescue my
children ... And then the house collapsed. I couldn't help her."
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered the army to help evacuate victims, as panicked residents ran into the smoldering streets, many clutching young children. He said he would head to the disaster zone in Central Java province later Saturday.
Sixteen hours after the quake struck, the number of dead stood at 2,914, said Social Affairs Ministry official Sopar Jaya, with two-thirds of the fatalities occurring in the devastated district of Bantul.
"The numbers just keep rising," Said Arifin Muhadi of the Indonesian Red Cross, adding that nearly 2,900 people were hurt.
Looking for survivors (Photo: AFP)
Doctors struggled to care for the injured, hundreds of whom were lying on plastic sheets, straw mats and even newspapers outside the overcrowded hospitals, some hooked to intravenous drips dangling from trees.
"We need help here," Said Kusmarwanto of Bantul Muhammadiyah Hospital, the closest hospital to the quake's epicenter, adding that his hospital alone had 39 bodies and that numbers there were rising.
At nearby Dr. Sardjito Hospital, health officials tallied 60 dead, but more bodies were lined up in the hallway and some family members were taking them home before they could be added to the official toll.
"We have hundreds of injured people, our emergency care unit is overwhelmed," Said Heru Nugroho.
Survivor being rescued (Photo: AFP)
TV footage showed damaged hotels and government buildings, and several collapsed homes. The quake cracked the runway in Yogyakarta's airport, closing it to aircraft until at least Sunday while inspections take place, Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa said.
'Quake has disturbed volcano'
Electricity and communications were also down in parts of the city, police said.
"I was running out from my house when I was hit by a slab of concrete," Said Sugiman, 50, who was lying on a mat outside Bethesda hospital with hundreds of other patients.
In the chaos that followed the quake, rumors of an impending tsunami sent thousands of people fleeing to higher ground in cars and on motorbikes. Yogyakarta is around 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the sea, and more than three hours after the quake no tsunami had occurred.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said it has not issued any tsunami warnings from the quake. Japan's Meteorological Agency also said there was no danger of quake-generated giant waves.
The quake's epicenter was close to the Mount Merapi volcano, which has been rumbling for weeks and sending out large clouds of hot gas and ash. Activity increased as a result of the temblor, with one eruption that came soon after the quake sending debris some 3.5 kilometers (2 miles) down its western flank, said Subandrio, a vulcanologist monitoring the peak.
"The quake has disturbed the mountain," he said. There were no reports of injuries as a result of the 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 volcanos and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.