YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia - Tens of thousands of Indonesians took refuge in flimsy tents in the earthquake-hit region of Java island today, as officials urged a stop to aid distribution by night to prevent theft and looting.
Rescue workers were still pulling bodies from the rubble of the 6.3 magnitude quake, which struck at dawn on Saturday and levelled entire villages around the ancient royal capital Yogyakarta, reducing homes to piles of wood, tiles and tin.
The quake killed at least 6234 people. Estimates of the number displaced or left homeless were unclear, but a provincial official said 130,000 homes had been destroyed or damaged.
"At this moment the number of homeless is not clear, but why don't you calculate from the numbers of homes damaged?" Bambang Susanto Priyohadi, Yogyakarta provincial secretary, told Reuters.
Some survivors complained of looting and in remote areas aid vehicles were being given police escort for protection from desperate survivors and thieves. Police have also asked that relief not be delivered at night.
"In some regions the lamps are not working and some people see this as an opportunity to steal," student volunteer Arief Budiman, who has been helping keep watch at night in the Bantul village of Baturetno, told Reuters.
"Almost all villages are conducting night watches to prevent stealing," said Budiman.
Many survivors have built shelters from the ruins of their homes and are living in squalid conditions.
Late yesterday relief efforts were dealt a blow in Klaten, one of the worst affected areas, when more than 40 people from six villages had to be taken to hospital with suspected food poisoning from food aid, local media reported.
Health workers had raised fears of disease due to unhygienic living conditions, but the United Nations said the chances of a public health crisis were slim because the homeless were relatively dispersed.
"A lot of people are suffering from high blood pressure and depression," said Triwinarsih, a midwife at a healthcare centre. "I am worried there could be a diarrhoea outbreak because of poor sanitation."
There were no signs of disease outbreaks so far, but medicines were being sent to affected areas to prevent any epidemic. Survivors were being immunised against measles.
The World Health Organisation said several tonnes of medicines and medical equipment had arrived in Indonesia and it was helping to ensure the supplies were "distributed to the right places." Thousands of injured people are already packed into local hospitals and officials say even people who are healthy and in no need of further medical treatment try to stay there because of lack of shelter, food and clean water in their home areas.
The government has been evacuating patients to more distant cities to relieve overcrowding.
"More than 22,000 patients have been treated in 29 local hospitals, field hospitals, health centres and mobile clinics," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement.
"However, local health facilities continue to be overwhelmed especially as the population has no homes to which to return."
Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said relief efforts were on track and the government would move into the rehabilitation phase soon. He said the government would start distributing money next week to victims of the earthquake.
"We have covered most areas," he told reporters. "It's not unusual that we haven't covered 100 per cent. That happens even in the United States, but our efforts have been maximum."
"We hope that by next week people will not have problems with logistics and food any more."
Aid from the Indonesian and foreign governments, the UN, and private agencies has been flowing into the region in increasing amounts, though many survivors still complained they lacked vital help.
"The government has not touched this place. We only get aid from family and friends," said 32-year-old Wayan Kurniawan, who lives in the foothills of Gunung Kidul. "I feel angry we are not getting any help."
The WHO statement quoted Dr George Petersen, its country representative for Indonesia, as saying there were still shortages of orthopaedic supplies, anaesthetics and antibiotics.
Bed sheets, mattresses, sterile kits for surgeries, stitching materials and x-ray films were still lacking, it said.