Hungarian doctors and paramedics from Baptist World Aid operated on and treated patients one day after Saturday’s 6.7 Richter scale earthquake in Indonesia.

Indonesia’s worst disaster since the 2004 tsunami, Saturday’s quake near Yogyakarta on the island of Java struck in the early morning, while most people slept. The death toll exceeds 5,100, with more than 15,000 injured and estimates of up to 200,000 people displaced.

Hospitals are overrun with injured patients and there is a shortage of drinking water, according to government reports. Electricity and communication have been cut in many areas, access to food and basic supplies is difficult, and there is urgent need for emergency workers and supplies. Heavy rains have hampered relief efforts.

According to a report by Bela Szilagyi, director of Hungarian Baptist Aid, the local hospital is full, causing patients to spill over into streets and squares, with intravenous drips hanging on trees.

“Many of the injured may die if they do not receive professional medical care in time,” said Dr. Walid Abou Samra, a surgeon working with Hungarian Baptist Aid. “There is a great need of further considerable medical help.”

The surgeon was part of a team working in Nias, Indonesia, on a BWAid project when the earthquake struck. The doctors were redirected to Yogyakarta, and by Sunday afternoon were already at work treating injuries and performing surgeries and operations on victims.

“There are a lot of injured who are waiting for amputation, cutting of wounds or other surgeries, but there are not enough anesthesiologists,” Samra said.

Local and international doctors used small plates for triage, prioritizing treatment by the severity of injuries. Samra described seeing a 5 year-old boy lying on the ground in great pain with broken shins and open wounds. Local officials had said the boy’s injuries weren’t serious enough for immediate attention, adding that in the worst-case scenario he would just be crippled. Samra switched his plate when no one was looking.

A second BWAid Rescue24 Medical Team of six Hungarian doctors and paramedics left Hungary on the day of the earthquake. They took half a metric ton of equipment, medicines and medical supplies with them.

Joined by two paramedics from Singapore, they worked together with local Baptists through Indonesian Baptist Aid and Indonesia Holistic Ministries. They arrived Sunday and started to treat the injured on Monday morning.

While local authorities and Baptists worked well to organize relief effort, the doctors “still have to work in quite adverse circumstances, which the frequent rains make worse,” reported Laszlo Pavelcze, rescue commander for Hungarian Baptist Aid. “Most of Yogyakarta is ruined, water and electricity provision is somewhat restored, and there seems to be no danger of infections.”

Based on a needs survey coordinated by Indonesian Baptists and local authorities, some BWAid Rescue24 doctors work in the Bethesda hospital in Yogyakarta, while others focus on six villages where no medical care is provided–such as in Bantu, where two thirds of the victims died because they did not receive medical care in the first hour.

While Indonesia’s government accepted medical assistance from BWAid, the group also offered additional help with mass feeding and search and rescue. Szilagyi said the teams would assess needs and possible ways for Baptists to be involved in later stages of humanitarian relief and rehabilitation.

Agustin Samosir of Indonesian Baptist Aid said shelter, medicines and clean water remain the most urgent priorities. “Basic needs are becoming more expensive in Yogyakarta. Gasoline is very hard to find,” he told the British Christian relief organization Tearfund. “Please pray for all the victims and their families and also for the teams responding, that we are well coordinated.”

Faith-based disaster-response groups from the Mennonites, Catholics and Church World Services responded within hours.

Muslim Aid allocated the British equivalent of $188,000 U.S. dollars for earthquake survivors.

The United States on Tuesday upped its relief contribution to $5 million in emergency aid, from an initial $500,000 announced by the Bush administration on Saturday and increased to $2.5 million by the end of the day.

The government of Indonesia declared a three-month emergency period, and estimates that nearly $100 million will be needed to provide food, health care and shelter, and then start reconstruction.

“People here in Indonesia are worried and fearful,” said John Samuel, program director for Tearfund’s tsunami-response operation based in Banda Aceh. “This earthquake struck less than 18 months after the tsunami.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

Share This