Mon, 12 Jun 2000

Anxiety haunts quake victims in Bengkulu

JAKARTA (JP): After overcoming the initial horror of last week's powerful earthquake, a sense of insecurity and apprehension has begun to descend upon the people of Bengkulu.

The director of Muhammad Yunus General Hospital, Zayadi Hussein, remarked on Sunday that there had also been increasing symptoms of clinical depression among residents.

He said heightened fears of tremors or other sudden drastic developments were taxing the minds of many.

"The aftershocks on Saturday which were followed by hundreds of minor jolts have traumatized residents," Zayadi was quoted by Antara as saying.

The most evident symptom was that people were overacting to even the most minor things.

He pointed out that people rush out of buildings and into the street at even the slightest vibration, such the rumble caused by a passing truck.

He also said the paranoia had reached a level where some people would rush to wake up their neighbors and warn them of an impending quake, even though the night had been calm.

"Another form of depression is that locals prefer to stay in makeshift tents rather than their houses, even if the weather is bad," Zayadi added.

The powerful earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale on June 4, which claimed at least 90 lives and injured another 1,300, has been followed by several tremors.

The largest series of aftershocks occurred on Saturday, with three jolts measuring between 4.9 and 6 on the Richter scale.

A Bengkulu resident, Thamrin, when asked acknowledged that he and many other residents were in a state of sustained dubiety.

He admitted that people had become afraid to sleep at night and also found it difficult to return to work because they could not concentrate.

But Bengkulu Psychiatric Hospital director R. Budi Muljanto said the depression had not reached a level serious enough to require special treatment.

Separately, pledges of assistance continued on Sunday, with Malaysia committing humanitarian aid worth US$100,000 to the victims of the earthquake.

Malaysian foreign minister Syed Hamid Albar said his country would soon decide on the exact type of assistance it would make available. (bby/jun)