U.S. aid starts to arrive for earthquake victims

BANTUL, Indonesia – U.S. Marines joined an international effort Tuesday to deliver aid and medical equipment to about 200,000 Indonesians left homeless by a devastating earthquake.

Two U.S. Marine cargo planes carrying a mobile field hospital landed in Yogyakarta, closest to the quake area in central Java, after cracks in the airport runway were patched.

A disaster assistance response team from the U.S. Agency for International Development is being readied and the amphibious assault ship USS Essex, which has extensive medical facilities, is en route to the area, White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said.

The United States also increased its aid contribution from $2.5 million to $5 million.

The United Nations said at least 21 other countries have joined the effort to help those left homeless by Saturday’s magnitude-6.3 quake, which killed more than 5,800 people. About 105,000 homes were said to be destroyed.

As medical aid began to arrive, the threat of a health crisis appeared to be easing.

At two hospitals in Bantul, the hardest-hit district, parking lots and hallways that were filled with hundreds of injured in the days after the quake were clear, with most patients now being treated in beds.

Workers removed a tent from the parking lot at Yogyakarta’s largest hospital, Sardjito, that had been used to shelter patients.

The U.N.’s top humanitarian official said the aid effort was going well, and there had been major improvements in coordination among aid organizations and nations since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 131,000 people in Indonesia’s Aceh province alone.

The government’s Social Affairs Ministry said the official death toll rose Tuesday to 5,846 as officials account for bodies buried quickly in mass graves after the quake.

Most survivors were still living in improvised shacks or group shelters erected in rice fields. Groups of families cooked together, each contributing scavenged food.

Despite government promises of aid, shortages of food and fresh water remained a pressing concern, and thousands of people used cardboard boxes to beg for cash and supplies from passing drivers.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has temporarily moved his office to Yogyakarta and spent a night sleeping in a tent with survivors, vowed to fight corruption in delivering aid money.

“I am ordering that not even one dollar will be misused,” he said.

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