May 27, 2006: The Yogyakarta Earthquake


On May 27, 2006, an earthquake with a moment magnitude of 6.4 hit Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The quake killed more than 5,700 people and injured tens of thousands more. The damages equated to nearly $3,1 billion. Many factors led to the extreme amount of damage and casualties.


Indonesia is no stranger to earthquakes. The islands of Indonesia is one of the most seismically active regions, and experience threats from earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis through the island arc.

The United States Geological Survey said the shock occurred about 12 miles southeast of Yogyakarta, but other analyses do not align on that distance. But regardless, the damage was severe.

More than 3,500 people were killed, as the quake hit one of the most densely populated places on earth. The quake measured as a 6.2 on the Richter scale, which is a pretty massive tremor. Within a minute, roofs of homes caved in, many on top of sleeping residents, as it was at about 5:54 AM. Hotels and government buildings collapsed.

Roads and bridges also collapsed, making it difficult for taxis and trucks filled with wounded citizens to get to the hospitals. Electricity was cut. Phone lines were down. Residents were panicked, in cars trying to bring the wounded to hospitals, or simply trying to flee the area.

The Indonesian president ordered the army to help evacuate the victims as the terrifying scene continued to unfold around them. Parents were running through the burning streets, clutching their children, trying to keep them safe.

Even when the injured were able to make it to the hospitals, despite destroyed roads and collapsed buildings around them, the doctors couldn't care for all of them. Hundreds were lying on plastic sheets on the ground, and when the plastic sheets ran out of room, newspapers. Patients were hooked up to IV drips that were dangling from trees.

In the city, the hospital was flooded with over a thousand patients beyond what they had beds for, hundreds waiting outside. But the disaster was beyond the city. When going southwest of Yogyakarta, in the rural areas, many of the brick houses had collapsed, killing all of the occupants inside. 95% of the area was damaged.

To further the panic, the nearby Mount Merapi had been seeing activity in the previous few weeks, and it was being monitored in case it erupted. Thousand of people were evacuated from the area as it threatened to erupt, causing more chaos. Though there was not a tsunami threat, rumors spread that one was impending, sending thousands more people fleeing.

Despite many offers of support from surrounding countries, the airport runway had been tracked, halting transportation in and out of the city. Initially, the Borobudar temple, Yogyakarta's Buddhist temple and one of the 7 wonders of the world, was thought to have suffered damaged, but it appears it was okay.

The anecdotes from the day are heartbreaking and terrifying. A 70-year-old food vendor was sobbing next to his destroyed house and dead wife. He had to focus on evacuating his children as the house collapsed around them, and had to leave his wife behind.

Though the volcano did erupt, because of the evacuation, there were no deaths or injuries as a result.

In total, more than 5,700 people died as a result of the early morning earthquake, tens of thousands were injured, some with just minor injuries and some severely, and hundreds of thousands were left homeless. Homes and private businesses were destroyed, and only 10% of the 3.1 billion dollars in damage affected the public sector.

Loss of homes accounted for more than half of the total losses. 154,000 houses were completely destroyed while 260,000 other homes were damaged in some way.


As mentioned earlier, many countries offered their help in the wake of the earthquake. Countries offered money, support in man power, food, medical teams or supplies, military efforts, emergency supplies, cots, mattresses, blankets or other aid. The countries that offered their help included Japan, the UK, Saudi Arabia, the EU, The United States, Australia, China, Canada, India, The Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, France, Italy, Singapore, and Vietnam. In some cases, while countries as a whole didn't provide their services (or in addition to their country's offerings), different organizations provided help, as well, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Islamic Relief, The Red Cross, Red Crescent, OXFAM, Plan International, Jesuit Refugee Service, WFP, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and MERCY Malaysia.

In 2004, the country had just experienced another, far larger disaster: The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 131,000 people in the Aceh province in Indonesia, and more than 100,000 people in over a dozen other countries. Using learnings from that disaster, they deployed a community-driven approach to reconstruction after the earthquake.

The government, however, was slow to implement assistance for private homes, leaving many homeowners on their own to rebuild themselves, or work with the community. The Red Cross Red Crescent, a relief agency, helped to reconstruct some homes.

Villagers were left to rebuild their homes with limit resources, including bamboo in stead of the bricks that once held up their homes.

I knew about the 2004 earthquake and tsunami, perhaps because it was big news but I think more so because we knew a family from Sri Lanka, one of the countries that was devastated by the disaster. However, I had not heard of this one. Living in Ohio, I have never experienced an earthquake. I know people in California who have experienced them, but the thought of 5,700 people dying because of something completely natural and unavoidable is absolutely terrifying, and there have been earthquakes that took hundreds of thousands of people.

The world is kind of terrifying, and on top of avoidable terrors like murder or shootings or things of that nature, there are also natural disasters that can wipe out entire cities that may never be fully reconstructed. And one of those, sadly and tragically, happened 14 years ago today in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.




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